New year, new match location, same faces for the Mexico national team.
El Tri's friendly against Iceland on Feb. 8, with Mexico playing in Las Vegas for the first time in its history, is about as low-stakes as it gets. Ostensibly, the match could be construed as some sort of preparation for March's big-ticket World Cup qualification match against Costa Rica and the less daunting trip to face reeling Trinidad and Tobago that follows.
Realistically, Osorio knew that half of his team wouldn't be available for the match, which falls on a FIFA window. This game is more about getting the group together, making a bit of cash for the federation and looking long term toward this summer's Gold Cup when many of the same players based in Mexico will be needed. At this summer's tournament, an alternate side will fight for the continental championship with the top team set for action in June's Confederations Cup.
It was the perfect opportunity to bring in a few players not accustomed to the international game. As some managers in the region have done before, it could've been a chance to bring in young players to learn from their veteran teammates and get acquainted with the coaching staff. It's only one match, so not everyone is going to play.
Osorio does have three new players on the roster, announced Tuesday. Club America defender Edson Alvarez, who also can play in the midfield, is included, as are Monterrey goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez and Atlas defender Luis Ricardo Reyes.
A defender nuestros colores con #PasiónyOrgullo.
¡Ya está la primera convocatoria del año!
Detalles: https://t.co/5EFqHfwmXA pic.twitter.com/supwF5XbsZ — Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) January 31, 2017
The rest of the players in the squad have represented El Tri — most of them recently. You'd expect at least half of the players on the roster to join the Europe-based stars in Russia. There are some players who can generate a bit of excitement and are more likely to be on the Gold Cup squad than the No. 1 group. Jesus Gallardo of Pumas, called as a defender, has started the season off looking dynamic and has just two caps. Jurgen Damm and Orbelin Pineda, while well-known to Mexican soccer fans, still combine for fewer than a dozen starts between them for the national team.
Yet, the coach could've experimented more with this game. Pachuca right back Raul Lopez is included despite limited playing time with Tuzos, but calls for the right back that took his starting spot at Chivas, Jesus Sanchez and his teammate, center back Jair Pereira didn't arrive. Despite their hot start that has them level on points with leader Tijuana, only Gallardo is included from Pumas' standout group of homegrown Mexican players including left back Alan Mendoza and wingers Javier Cortes and Pablo Barrera.
Osorio's approach to this game is different than the one expected. Maybe the manager wants to continue to ease any pressure on him and feels that even an adverse result in this friendly would give his critics in and out of the setup more ammunition. Perhaps he wants to lean on the experience players like Jesus Molina bring in the midfield or Rafa Marquez and Hugo Ayala provide in the center.
But he should've sprinkled more youth into the team. Surely Marquez could impart wisdom to Monterrey's 19-year-old center back Cesar Montes and Gio dos Santos could share tips with Chivas' promising attacker Rodolfo Pizarro, who already has seen time under Osorio. It's something that could make a difference, especially if those players are the ones tasked with winning the Gold Cup.
Instead, Osorio is prioritizing the here and now. It's a fine roster to face Iceland but come summer, he may wish he'd had more time with the players he'll be using in the Gold Cup.