Edson Alvarez probaly won't make the World Cup with Mexico. After all, he's only 20 years old and isn't even coming off that good of a campaign with Club America. It looks like his chance is gone. Then again, he has another opportunity.
Alvarez is one of a handful of Mexico players likely on the outside looking in for manager Juan Carlos Osorio's 23-man World Cup roster who have a last chance to convince the coach to take them to Russia. Monday's match against Wales is the perfect time for a player like Alvarez, who is on the 28-man provisional list, to make his case for inclusion.
While Carlos Salcedo was in training with El Tri on Sunday, Mexico's likely starting right back is coming off a long European season and an injury recovery. It may be a chance for Alvarez, perhaps next to fellow fringe players Hugo Ayala and Oswaldo Alanis as the center backs, to prove to Osorio he can hack it at the highest level of play.
Osorio didn't exactly want to see his players in this position. The coach planned to name his 23-man roster for the tournament and get down to the nitty-gritty. Instead, injuries to players who would be starters when fully fit forced him to name an amplified squad to fill out the numbers for these friendly matches and provide cover should a star's recovery go awry. Four players are left to be cut from the roster after Nestor Araujo's departure from camp last week because of knee tendonitis.
And Alvarez said he's still dreaming of making it to the World Cup, even if he may have been called in this month because of injuries to other players.
"We’re professionals, we know things happen and that we can be on the list," Alvarez said Friday. "We know those who go and represent us will put in their best effort, will fight for the shirt. The group is calm. We know there are still two games to show ourselves, put our hand up and prove we can win our place."
Jurgen Damm is another player in the same boat. The Tigres winger can provide a burst of speed down the wing and has played a bit as wing-back during his career. Still, he lacks the versatility of a player like Alvarez who could line up at right back, center back or in defensive midfield. Osorio has shown he's fond of players who can do multiple things, converting Pumas winger Jesus Gallardo to a left-back from the national team, pushing Salcedo from center back to right back and moving Diego Reyes from midfielder to center back depending on the matchup. Ultimately, whether a player makes the list or not could come down to whether or not they can fill in multiple roles.
"I’d prefer an expert, somebody who can play as a winger but can also play as an inside midfielder meaning 20 meters back," Osorio told Goal earlier this year. "That’s perfectly illustrated with Carlos Vela. So, Carlos has played his football for the most part as a right winger playing with his left foot, so he has the ability to come inside and play give and gos and take shots on goal. Well, I think he can play 20 meters farther back and start as an inside midfielder.
"The question is will there be places for specialists? Well, if at the end I have to make a decision, I will make a decision based on that: What this player has to offer to the team vs. Player B. Hopefully I will make a decision then."
The manager's mind has been mostly made up for some time now, but things continue to change, and he will have to make difficult choices if there are players who can't work back from injury. Even in replacing Araujo, he could go with Alanis because of his strength with his left foot, Ayala because of his consistency or Alvarez because of his versatility and youth.
"It’s been hard, very hard for me but at the same time I think it’s a chance for others, as happens often in life," Osorio said at a news conference Friday. "The problem for one person is a chance for others, in this case an opportunity for Hugo, for Edson, Diego who is recovering, Carlos who fortunately is here and hopefully at the end we make the best decision for everyone."
To do that, he'll want to see how the players hold up against a Wales team that doesn't have Gareth Bale but still can produce an attacking threat with Aaron Ramsey and Sam Vokes in the side. Osorio was hoping to be polishing and fine-tuning at this point, but players like Alvarez will be thrilled that they're still in the mix and can use Monday's game to edge their way into making a dream come true.
"I think any player you ask if it’s their dream will see themselves there," Alvarez said when asked if he saw himself at the World Cup. "It’s the manager’s decision, and if I’m not asked to be there I have to take that decision as well as possible, professionally, and support our teammates who are there."
If he stands out Monday, seeing the 20-year-old in Russia may not be such a long shot after all.