Projecting Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexico squad 100 days out from the World Cup
Juan Carlos Osorio has given international caps to 66 players in the 28 months and 43 games since he took the reins of the Mexican national team in October 2015.
The Colombian has had plenty of opportunity to experiment, but decision time in picking the strongest 23-player squad to represent Mexico at Russia 2018 is just around the corner, with Tuesday marking 100 days before the World Cup kicks off.
Of the squad projected below, it is worth noting that there are just two players under the age of 23 and that the majority (15) are based outside Mexico, which would be a first for El Tri at a World Cup.
Here is Mexico's projected squad for the World Cup:
Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege)
Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul)
Between them, Ochoa (17), Corona (12) and Talavera (9) have featured in 38 of Osorio's 43 games in charge of Mexico. With Ochoa 32 years old and Talavera and Corona over 35, it's not a selection that inspires confidence in Mexico's next generation of shot-stoppers, but it's also hard to make a compelling case against these three being the best the country has to offer right now.
Despite being an Osorio favorite, Talavera's spot is possibly the most vulnerable due to the Toluca stopper continuing his recovery from an injury that kept him out for six months from last July. Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota, Monterrey's Hugo Gonzalez and Tijuana's Gibran Lajud would seem the most likely to step up in case of injury or serious loss of form.
In the mix: Cota, Lajud, Gonzalez, Moises Munoz, Jonathan Orozco
Diego Reyes (Porto)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad)
Nestor Araujo (Santos Laguna)
Miguel Layun (Sevilla)
Hugo Ayala (Tigres)
Jesus Gallardo (Pumas)
Edson Alvarez (Club America)
"One full-back, only one full-back!" That will be the inevitable cry from many pundits. Yes, six of these defenders are primarily considered center-backs, while Gallardo plays on the left wing for Pumas.
But Osorio's preference for versatile players shouldn't come as a surprise. The coach is set to start one of Alvarez, Salcedo or Reyes at right-back, both to provide better aerial presence and to give Layun more freedom to attack down the left.
Also, this is a team that shifts between using three center-backs and a back four -- sometimes in-game and depending on whether the team is in possession -- meaning having enough center-backs is prioritized ahead of the full-back positions.
The issue that will be concerning to Osorio is whether he can get away with only picking one left-footed center-back in Moreno. The Colombian has been adamant that a left-footed player is his strong preference on the left of the center-back partnership -- largely to hit the diagonal balls out to the right-winger should teams press the Mexican defense -- but the fact is that Chivas' Oswaldo Alanis and Hedgardo Marin haven't proved confidence-boosting solutions when called upon.
Araujo plays on the left for Santos Laguna, but whether to select Alanis and leave out either Ayala or Alvarez may well be one of the toughest decisions the Mexico manager has to make when choosing his squad.
In the mix: Alanis, Marin, Jair Pereira, Cesar Montes, Luis Reyes, Rafa Marquez
Hector Herrera (Porto)
Andres Guardado (Real Betis)
Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt)
The reason there are so few names in this column is that there's an overlap here with the defense and some of the wide forwards.
Reyes has regularly been used of late as a holding midfielder, and Alvarez can also fulfill that role should the head coach want somebody who is more defensive-minded. The development of both negates the need for Marquez, who has legal issues to resolve and would struggle to impact a World Cup given his recent form and age.
Herrera and Guardado are inked-in starters, the heartbeat of the Mexico side, while dos Santos is next in line in case either of them are absent or there are rotations.
In Germany, Fabian hasn't started a single Bundesliga game this season due to his back injury and still has some work to do in proving his fitness and form.
Finally, seeing forwards Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos or Javier Aquino involved in deeper roles than they are accustomed to is something Osorio has been experimenting with and shouldn't be discounted.
Nor should the possible inclusion of Pachuca's left-footed central midfielder Erick Gutierrez. The 22-year-old has only started five games under Osorio but is Guardado's long-term replacement in midfield. He has leadership qualities, and the former Atletico Nacional manager regularly name-checks the midfielder when he discusses the future of El Tri.
Along with Gutierrez, Chivas' Rodolfo Pizarro, who can play on either wing or behind a striker, is also a strong option.
In the mix: Omar Govea, Jesus Molina, Jonathan Gonzalez, Jesus Duenas, Orbelin Pineda, Jurgen Damm, Pizarro, Jorge Hernandez
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (West Ham)
Carlos Vela (LAFC)
Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
Javier Aquino (Tigres)
Jesus "Tecatito" Corona (Porto)
Hirving Lozano (PSV)
Raul Jimenez (Benfica)
Oribe Peralta (Club America)
If you were to pick the two forwards that could potentially be toppled from the World Cup squad, it'd most likely be Oribe Peralta and dos Santos. But the problem there is that you'd be getting rid of two experienced players who are well-integrated in the squad and boast World Cup pedigree.
Osorio has emphasized how important the wings are for his Mexico team, and this group of forwards, plus Fabian and Gallardo, provide a wealth of differing options. Only Peralta is limited to a central role.
It's also interesting to note that Hernandez is going to a World Cup for the first time as the starting striker.
In the mix: Alan Pulido, Elias Hernandez, Henry Martin
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.