Spare a thought for Jonathan dos Santos. The Mexico midfielder had a standout night Tuesday against Paraguay, scoring his first-ever national team goal and also registering an assist in El Tri's 4-2 victory over the South Americans.
Yet, the LA Galaxy No. 8 still finds himself down the depth chart and fighting for a place on the Gold Cup squad.
"I'm happy for my first goal with the national team, really excited. But this is just the start," he said after the match. "I have to keep working, keep working in my club which is what is going to get me selected for the Gold Cup and allow me to keep doing my small part for the team."
Tata Martino came out of his first Mexico camp with numerous options at the interior midfielder position, the two players on either side of the deep-lying central midfielder who are charged with a mix of connecting the defense to the attack and defending in the middle.
On the left, there's Andres Guardado first in line. Guardado is holding off Erick Gutierrez not only because of his experience but also his club form. Despite being 32, Guardado is playing an important role for a Real Betis side that until a few weeks ago was in the thick of things in the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and La Liga. Not insignificantly, he's also doing it at a club where manager Quique Setien asks his team to play in a style that utilizes many of the same elements Martino wants his Mexico team to use.
Gutierrez is struggling for minutes with PSV but made the most of his time with the national team this month. His skillset is similar to Guardado's, with the Pachuca product also more comfortable on the left.
So Dos Santos could start as the right interior midfielder? Not so fast. Porto midfielder Hector Herrera wasn't in this camp but Martino said after a 3-1 win over Chile that had he been in the squad, Monterrey midfielder Carlos Rodriguez wouldn't have made his debut. But debut he did, over Dos Santos.
Some of that may be rhythm. While the 28-year-old Galaxy midfielder is only just getting his club season started, Rodriguez has played more than a dozen club matches with Monterrey. His debut, however, was solid. Martino said he's still missing a few elements that will get him picked up by a European club, but he's clearly in the mix for future national team call-ups. Dos Santos will have to prove he's the best option for Martino in that position. Beating out Herrera will be a tall task, and even getting past Rodriguez could push him.
Dos Santos always has wanted more with the national team. He made just a brief cameo in the 2018 World Cup and later in the summer said: "I was hoping to play more, but at the end of the day it was a beautiful experience. It was my first World Cup and I’m happy to have been with great teammates, with a great manager and I hope to play in another World Cup with more participation."
Making that happen in four year's time may prove difficult with Martino having so many choices at those positions. While the players who started in midfield against Chile or Paraguay played well, the pool goes still deeper. Victor Guzman may have been Mexico's best player in the fall friendly matches, and he played only 12 minutes in the two March matches. U-20 midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez already has senior caps to his name. Orbelin Pineda wasn't called in, but the 23-year-old once looked like the future of the El Tri and still shows flashes of talent.
These are the kinds of problems managers want to have. The ideal scenario is to have two options at every position, with injuries or suspensions not derailing a team during a tournament but simply providing an opportunity for the next man in line to step up.
"I feel that the competition there is now is really good, really healthy. I think my teammates, whoever is asked, is going to do things well. If you’re not, you’re going to support the whole group," said Roberto Alvarado, yet another player who could be on the interior midfielder depth chart but looks better suited as a winger. "I think that’s important, that there can be a healthy competition and it’s going to help us a lot."
Especially in a national team, there's an ebb and flow. There are injuries or players falling out of form with their clubs. Dos Santos needs to perform well with the Galaxy and be ready to step up with the national team when his number is called. If not, there are plenty of others who can do the job.