Pineda and five breakout Mexico players to watch at Gold Cup

Adam Hunger
There's plenty of opportunity for El Tri's rising stars to strut their stuff as an alternative team looks to retain the CONCACAF crown

Chicharito is not here. Hector Moreno is not here. Andres Guardado? Carlos Vela? Miguel Layun? All absent.

Mexico's biggest stars are resting or preparing for the upcoming season after finishing fourth in the Confederations Cup, leaving the new generation to fight for regional supremacy when the Gold Cup begins this weekend.

Osorio suspended six games

One man who is not on our list, but perhaps should be, is Luis Pompilio Paez. Osorio's assistant and friend was preparing the group for the competition but now, with Osorio's suspension, will guide the team throughout the Gold Cup. A good showing could have his name being tossed around for top coaching jobs inside and outside the region.

Looking at the players who will carry out the game plans the Colombian draws up though, these five players could boost their stock and become fixtures in Osorio's top side:

Orbelin Pineda

Orbelin Pineda Mexico Luis Ovalle Panama friendly 10112016

The Chivas midfielder helped his club team to league and cup titles this season and already is approaching double-digit Mexico caps. Still, Pineda's action with Mexico's top side has been limited and the Gold Cup could be a chance for the 21-year-old to make his case that it shouldn't be.

Strong in the middle of the field and adept at winning back balls early, as Osorio likes his central midfielders to do, Pineda will cause plenty of frustration for opposing midfielders but also can help start attacks with passes and has a good shot of his own. 

Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez

Luis Rodriguez Mexico

Mexico's right-back depth chart looks about as deep as a plastic pool you put in your backyard. There's Carlos Salcedo (actually a center back), Miguel Layun (actually a left back) and Diego Reyes (center back), and potentailly Paul Aguilar (who has been injured the better part of the last year) or a few other Liga MX options who haven't turned Osorio's head.

Enter Luis Rodriguez. Converted from midfield to play right back at Tigres by coach Tuca Ferretti, his adaptation to the position went so well that Ferretti not only kept playing "Chaka" after winter signing Luis Advincula returned to full fitness, he also felt comfortable enough loaning out the Peru international to Lobos BUAP this summer. The early returns from the national team have been good as well, with Rodriguez playing well in the friendly games ahead of the tournament and showcasing how his forward runs can help the whole team.

Edson Alvarez

Edson Alvarez Club America

Club America prospect Edson Alvarez is just 19 years old but already has played in a Club World Cup and was training with Mexico's top team at the Confederations Cup in anticipation of the Gold Cup. Alvarez could play either center back or sit in front of the back line as a defensive midfielder for Mexico, filling a role that Osorio has shown a desire to have a player emerge in, putting both Rafa Marquez and Diego Reyes there with varying degress of success.

Alvarez earned his first international cap against Iceland earlier this year, and the group stage of the tournamnet could be a perfect place for him to continue getting a feel for the international game. The Caribbean attackers could pose a good test for the 6-foot-2 defender who also helped Mexico get out of the group in this year's U-20 World Cup.

Cesar Montes

Cesar Montes Monterrey

A standout at the club level, the 20-year-old Cesar Montes has puzzlingly been overlooked by Osorio despite ticking many of the boxes Osorio likes to check when evaluating a defender. He's tall, decent on the ball, dangerous on set pieces and reads the game with maturity beyond his years. Still, he's waiting for his first senior cap even after the two build-up friendly games.

Guardado completes Betis move

So, maybe Montes won't get a chance to break out, but with Osorio (and Paez) sure to put in rotations with three games in a week during the group stage, he may get his first cap. If he does, expect to see a player who has been eagerly waiting for his opportunity and wants to show that Monterrey's dependence on him despite his young age is no accident. This is a player with serious talent who is ready to take the next step.

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Erick "Cubo" Torres

Erick Cubo Torres Mexico

We know Cubo Torres can score goals when playing in MLS for Wilmer Cabrera. He's the second-leading scorer in MLS at the moment, but the pressure is now on the Houston Dynamo forward's shoulders. After Alan Pulido's injury, the 24-year-old was called in as an injury replacement. The fact that he wasn't on the initial roster may indicate where the Mexico staff sees him in the grand pecking order, but as the only true central forward on this roster the chances will come for Torres.

If he can put them away, he'll definitely put himself in the mix for future call-ups - though with Chicharito, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta and Pulido ahead of him, he might not. Either way, this tournament is a chance for the Guadalajara native to stand out for his country and show that he can score outside MLS as well after an up-and-down spell with Chivas and struggles for playing time both with the Dynamo and on loan at Cruz Azul.