Defensive issues continue, Lozano keeps rising: Five thoughts on Mexico's World Cup qualification

Comments()
Pedro Pardo
The concern for El Tri continues to be at the back, especially as another winger emerges as a regular starting option for next summer's tournament

Mexico's first task is done, in much easier fashion than last time around, and the work toward the next now begins. Three matches remain in World Cup qualification, but as Mexico assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez said after Friday's 1-0 win over Panama, a new stage is beginning.

There are nine months before head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, Pompilio Paez and the rest of the staff name their roster, board the plane and head off in search of playing a minimum of five games at the World Cup.

Goal takes a look at what qualification has shown us and what concerns remain for El Tri:

Article continues below

Defense the overriding concern


Nestor Araujo Mexico Armando Cooper Panama

When you look at Mexico's squad, or even just the starting lineup from the win over Panama, things look pretty good overall. Three Europe-based stars up top, with another in-form player or two coming off the bench. In the midfield, reliable Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado and surprise starter Jurgen Damm. At the back, RED ALERT. We've found the issue!

That's been the case for Mexico for some time, even longer than Osorio has been the coach. Though El Tri were able to keep Panama from putting a ball in the back of the net, the defense still will be the major concern heading into the summer showpiece. 

True, Mexico was hamstrung by injuries Friday, choosing not to risk the injured Hector Moreno or Jair Pereira, and came out all right. But while the Jesus Gallardo experiment hasn't resulted in catastrophe, the Pumas winger is not who you want defending against top-tier international players.

Diego Reyes is searching for playing time on the club level and has no consistency with El Tri as he's shuffled around to various places on the field. Rumors of Nestor Araujo solidifying a move to Europe never materialized, and he'll be with Santos Laguna for at least four more months instead of facing the kind of competition he'll need to defend if he's going to start at the World Cup.

The back line isn't a total disaster, but if Moreno and Reyes can't break into their club teams, it will continue to be the chief cause of concern on the road to Russia.


Lozano continues to take on star role


Hirving Lozano Mexico Panama

Around this time last year, everyone was wondering what was wrong with Hirving Lozano. He'd helped Pachuca to a league title in the spring of 2016 but failed to make his mark on the Copa America Centenario and then couldn't lead the Mexican Olympic team out of the group stage.

Once Lozano got a chance to rest up, he returned to his previously impressive form and earned a move to PSV after helping Pachuca lock up another title, this time in the CONCACAF Champions League. He's only gotten better from there, and after three goals in three games with PSV and the winner Friday for Mexico against Panama, it's clear Lozano is a player who could star for Mexico at the World Cup with his game only getting better by playing abroad.

The move to the Netherlands so far hasn't changed him off the pitch, either. Lozano was a family man, albeit a young one, in Pachuca, and he hasn't found trouble in Eindhoven. During a short but amiable chat with a reporter in the mixed zone after the game, Lozano responded with one word, "Family," as the key to his successful month.


Goalkeeper job Ochoa's to lose


Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico

The tired narrative of a goalkeeper controversy again was advanced by plenty of media outlets ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier. Ultimately, it was again Guillermo Ochoa starting in goal. And who else would it be? While Jesus Corona had a great Gold Cup, Osorio has always turned to Ochoa in the biggest matches, and Russia will be no different.

Despite his foibles with his clubs, he's rarely been in the wrong place at the wrong time for the national team, stretching back into the Miguel Herrera era. Osorio has learned a lot about coaching a national team, and it seems he realized that one of his early errors was his aggressive rotation of goalkeepers at the Copa America Centenario.

While he gave Alfredo Talavera a start at the Confederations Cup, Ochoa was the man in the biggest matches. And, with Talavera sidelined several more months with a knee injury, the goalkeeping job is Ochoa's to lose — no matter what many in the media would have you believe.


Leadership no issue, even without Marquez


Andres Guardado Mexico

Mexico was planning to rely on Rafa Marquez for leadership in Russia, where he could take part in his fifth World Cup (and look to become the lone answer to the trivia question of who has been booked the most times at the World Cup). His recent sanction from the U.S. Department of Treasury has thrown that plan into uncertainty. But Mexico is not a team that will be without leadership.

Guardado and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez will be in their fourth World Cups, with Ochoa among other players who will bring good memories and playing experience from the 2014 tournament into Russia. Guardado particularly looks to be taking on the mantle of leader in the locker room, giving an impassioned pitch for reporters and fans to respect what the team has done up to this point.

Marquez's role in the dressing room never has been totally clear — rumors of him not exactly mentoring young players abound — but he would've been a good presence in Russia. If he's not able to travel, though, Mexico won't be a rudderless ship. There are several candidates who can step in and fill the void.


Montes, Lopez in line for auditions


Edson Alvarez Cesar Montes Mexico Gold Cup

Cesar Montes came into Friday's win over Panama in the 83rd minute, and his inclusion may hint at a longer audition for the Monterrey center back. It has been puzzling to watch Osorio call in the same center backs while not giving the 20-year-old much of a look, but the defender got his first caps at the Gold Cup and now has an appearance in qualification as well.

With Mexico set to give younger players a chance to prove they belong on the top roster and the team lacking options at the back, Montes may find himself getting a hefty amount of minutes Tuesday against Costa Rica.

So too could Raul Lopez, who as a right back plays a position with even fewer choices than Montes does. Lopez played further up the field in the Gold Cup, something plenty of players in the Mexico player pool can do better than him. But either Lopez or Edson Alvarez could get a look if Osorio sticks with a four-man back line against the Ticos.

Any starters aside from the regulars Tuesday will know they're getting an opportunity to show exactly what they can bring to the team at the World Cup. Many spots are set, but the coaching staff will definitely be watching to fill in spots 19-23.

Next article:
Levante to make official Barcelona complaint amid Copa del Rey expulsion reports
Next article:
Barcelona vs Levante: TV channel, live stream, squad news & preview
Next article:
Andy Cole joins Sol Campbell's coaching staff at Macclesfield
Next article:
'Everything about him screams Liverpool' - Klopp delighted with new Robertson contract
Next article:
Is this Eredivisie player the best right-back in FIFA 19?
Close