It turns out Mexico didn't need its best Thursday.
Not that it's any surprise that master of rotations Juan Carlos Osorio used a team with several regulars missing against Honduras. Nor is it a surprise that El Tri were able to secure a 3-0 victory. What was a pleasant surprise is just how effective those players were and how well the team worked together after a slow opening portion of the contest.
It's easy to shrug off the result, to point out Honduras' struggles in World Cup qualification, to note that the Central Americans turned up just days before the contest at altitude while Mexico has been together for the last two weeks. That's fair, but it also ignores the last time Honduras was in the Estadio Azteca, when Mexico played an alternative side because of injury, not by force, and was unable to get a goal past a disciplined Honduras team.
The focus can be on Sunday's rivalry contest against the United States and keeping the team unbeaten in the Estadio Azteca against the Americans. For Osorio, the rotations in the past paved the way for this group to be able to get results despite missing some of the top players.
"The best thing we have is the competition we have and the internal competition for a place. Today the group is much more solid, much more strong," Osorio said in a news conference after the match. "We played a good opponent and we were able to beat them saving some of our most important players for the game against the United States, which is going to give us the great chance to face this excellent opponent with a very fresh team."
A victory over the U.S. also would virtually clinch Mexico's spot in the 2018 World Cup. What a boost that would be for the team as it heads to Russia for the first time for the Confederations Cup, knowing that it will be making a return visit in 12 months.
Hector Moreno, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Miguel Layun and Andres Guardado had the night off while El Tri still were strong enough to see off Honduras with relatively little effort. In the place of Moreno, Chivas center back Oswaldo Alanis was able to keep Honduras forward Alberth Elis from finding any space up front and scored the opening goal by beating center back Maynor Figueroa to nod in a corner kick.
Raul Jimenez put plenty of pressure on Figueroa and his companions in defense as well, eventually having his hard work rewarded with a chip over goalkeeper Donis Escober to extend Mexico's lead to three.
In Guardado's place, Hector Herrera showed flashes of the player he was at the 2014 World Cup, a standard he set but has since failed to live up to. And in attack, Carlos Vela and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona could reprise their roles with Chicharito in between against the U.S. Or Hirving Lozano, who scored the second goal, also could step in after getting a rest for much of the match and causing big problems for a Honduran team whose wide players already looked to be breathing heavily before the speedy winger made his entrance in the 57th minute.
Osorio makes tweaks and changes at all times and has to have had this difficult stretch of three matches in 10 days (on two continents) planned out for some time. Everything went to plan Thursday with many key elements missing, but the coach had no doubt some of the depth players would have success.
"The Mexican player plays really well, competes very well and beyond our methodology I think they've taken on our teaching as high-level players do," Osorio said. "It's precisely because of that the national team is in the situation it's in and we're going to keep getting better in every aspect."
Now, it'll be up to his regulars to make sure the momentum continues and Mexico is hitting its stride as it begins play in the Confederations Cup. Those players will be well-rested and anticipating getting on the field in a match that means something. Very little in North America means more than Mexico vs. the USA, and Sunday now beckons for El Tri.