Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio will soon announce his squad for October friendlies in the United States against New Zealand and Panama. Knowing Osorio, he's already been preparing for this and can tell you how New Zealand likes to play, which Panamanian players go high on penalty kicks and whether the team would rather stay in a Hilton or a Marriott.
That's his thing. Osorio prepares. But does he even want to be getting ready for these games? The matches could cause more issues than good for him. He was once again whipped with words in the Mexican press - and in English-language coverage like this site's - after closing out World Cup qualification with flat showings in a win over El Salvador and a draw with Honduras. He undoubtedly is the world's least popular one-loss coach.
Winning is a salve, though, and Mexico should win both of these friendlies. We said that going into the final two qualifiers of the Fourth Round, but the point remains that El Tri will have more talent on the field than either of its opponents. There will be criticism about that very fact, cries that Mexico should've scheduled tougher opposition. The truth is that the Mexican federation did as well as possible for this break. The majority of power teams are playing qualification matches in their regions, leaving OFC and CONCACAF the two best regions from which to find competition.
What will be most fascinating about the upcoming roster call is seeing what Osorio decides to do with his squad. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is back into top form for Bayer Leverkusen after suffering a broken hand that kept him out of those qualifiers. Jesus "Tecatito" Corona put in an excellent individual performance for Porto in the Champions League. Will the full European group be needed?
His counterparts are taking wildly different approaches. New Zealand boss Anthony Hudson will reveal his squad Thursday but made clear that the Oct. 8 date with Mexico and his team's match against the United States three days later are going to be landmark games for his side.
“This has got to be one of the biggest windows we’ve had in quite a few years playing against two world-class sides,” he told the federation's official website. “The States and Mexico are two teams that always compete well at the FIFA World Cup and they both have large followings so we’re hoping for some big crowds to really test ourselves.”
While the All Whites come in undefeated in its last 10 games, Hudson is right that his team has lacked matches against the best international teams. The toughest side New Zealand has come up against is probably Papua New Guinea, and memories of 5-1 and 4-2 defeats to Mexico in the playoff to qualify for the 2014 Word Cup can't be too far behind.
Panama manager Hernan "Bollilo" Gomez has called in a team missing many of his regular fixtures, with Gomez's men playing just one match together before starting their Hex odyssey against Honduras in November.
It's likely that Osorio will find a balance between the Hudson and Gomez. The indications are that he would like to see Giovani dos Santos, his brother Jonathan and forward Carlos Vela back in Mexico kits at some point, though its possible that those in the know are reading the tea leaves incorrectly. If that's the case, it's tough to imagine Osorio throwing them into the fire in the Hex. Those estranged players being in the group would be significant. He may want to take full advantage of the international window and bring in Chicharito and Tecatito after they missed out on the qualifiers. It seems almost excessive to call a full-strength team.
Failing that, Osorio could comb through Liga MX for younger players making a difference that could give Mexico depth. But chances are he saw enough of that last time. Chivas midfielder Orbelin Pineda may make a return, but the strikers he called to help with the injuries have cooled and, with Chicharito and Oribe Peralta both back healthy, may be surplus.
No matter what Osorio does, we'll learn more about him and about how much danger the team is in of starting off the Hex with difficulties like it did the last time around. If that happens, Osorio won't have any more friendlies to worry about. That fact alone may motivate him to bring the best possible team, one that avoids any slip-ups in October guarantees he makes it to see the final round of qualification.