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23 pases a Rusia: Goal projects Mexico's World Cup roster

Nov 15, 2017 4:39:00 PMCONCACAF
Chicharito and Hector Moreno are locks, but there are plenty of players on the bubble. Goal projects El Tri's squad for this summer's tournament

The Mexico national team closed out 2017 with a victory over Poland and now awaits the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 to see what its path will look like next summer. The draw will answer the question of which teams Mexico will face. Now we need to answer which players Mexico will field.

We have a bit of a framework to work with. First, we can glance at the team coach Juan Carlos Osorio decided to take to Russia for the Confederations Cup in the not-too-distant past. And we also have about two years of observation of what Osorio likes to do, which players he's apt to call in and who he doesn't typically favor. Osorio said before October's victory over Trinidad & Tobago that he has a pool of 35 players he'll be evaluating during the next several months. Despite his tendencies to go off the radar, expect him to close ranks from here on out. That's what he did with November's friendly matches, using an experienced team to get results in Belgium and Poland.

So who will be on the final list? Every month until the tournament, Goal will take a look at the 23 players most likely to represent El Tri at the World Cup, updating the projection as players' form oscillates or as injuries take players out of contention. Here is November's projection: 


Goalkeepers


Guillermo Ochoa Mexico

Guillermo Ochoa, Jesus Corona, Alfredo Talavera

The three goalkeepers in Russia seem entirely dependent on how Talavera recovers from the knee injury that has knocked him out of this season. If, as the early estimates indicated, the Toluca goalkeeper is able to come back early in the Clausura and show the same level he did prior to the ligament issue, he should be on the plane.

It's not a huge issue for Mexico if he's not. Ochoa is the undoubted No. 1, starting back-to-back World Cup qualifiers in the September cycle. The Standard Liege shot-stopper held his own against a potent Belgium attack and continues to be dependable when called upon for El Tri. Jesus Corona put in a good performance against Poland as well, especially with his right-leg save in the second half to keep the clean sheet intact. Mexico's top-two goalkeepers should be of little worry.

For the third spot? If Talavera can't go, Osorio has the choice of going with youth in Chivas' Rodolfo Cota, who already knows how to be the third goalkeeper in Russia after going to the Confederations Cup, or experience in Puebla's Moises Munoz.


Defenders


Jesus Gallardo Mexico

Hector Moreno, Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, Edson Alvarez, Miguel Layun, Carlos Salcedo, Jesus Gallardo, Hugo Ayala

This area continues to be the place of biggest concern for Mexico, and our projection includes no players who are primarily right backs. But if Osorio is concerned about that, he hasn't shown it. Layun, Salcedo, Alvarez and Reyes all can play right back — and have for the Mexico national team in the past few months. Jesus Gallardo's positive performance against Poland, first at left wing back then at left back, means Layun could be on the right if needed. Salcedo is playing as a right center back with Frankfurt but once again moved out wide against Belgium before coming inside against Poland.

Alvarez had a standout Gold Cup that led to minutes in the recent batch of World Cup qualifiers. After Alvarez spent the summer training with the team in Russia, though not part of the Confederations Cup squad, it's a safe bet that he'll be included, especially after his midfield minutes in the final World Cup qualifier against Honduras showcased his versatility. He likely would've played more in Europe were it not for the injury he suffered against Belgium.

Araujo may be part of the first-choice center-back pairing if Reyes continues to be deployed as a defensive midfielder, and Hugo Ayala makes the team after yet another solid but unremarkable performance.


Midfielders


Andres Guardado Mexico

Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jonathan dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Marco Fabian

Guardado is in great form with Real Betis and is shaping up to be the leader of the team this summer, both on the field and in the locker room. Of course, if Rafa Marquez's situation is resolved, El Kaiser could fill the latter role.

This is an experienced group, though, like in Russia, there's not a player here who specializes in sitting back and destroying attacks. Dos Santos and Herrera took that job on to some extent at the Confederations Cup, and they'll have to do so again with few top-quality options available for Mexico as a defensive midfielder. Reyes and Guardado paired together to good effect against Belgium, so that's another option.

Fabian is a big question mark here as he continues to struggle with injuries. When Fabian has been healthy, Osorio and the coaching staff have wanted the Eintracht Frankfurt man in the group. If Fabian can't recover, Orbelin Pineda seems the most likely replacement as a young player who could come on late in games Mexico is leading and tighten things up but also distribute the ball going forward. His form continues to slip with Chivas, though, and an attack-minded player like Jurgen Damm or Elias Hernandez could occupy the 23rd spot.


Forwards


Hirving Lozano Mexico Belgium

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Giovani dos Santos, Oribe Peralta

Chicharito, Lozano and Tecatito are locks based on their form for club and country since Osorio arrived. Jimenez and Vela are likely in that group as well, even as their playing time dips with their European clubs. Jimenez may try to force a move through in the winter if he continues to ride the pine for Benfica, while Vela's inclusion may depend on how quickly he adapts to MLS with Los Angeles FC.

Hernandez 11/8 to score v Watford

Lozano could be the biggest lock of them all at this point after his two-goal performance against Belgium. The same can't be said of Dos Santos, who needed a big friendly window but unfortunately was injured against and unavailable for the Poland match. His position in this group of attackers is in real doubt.

Peralta didn't get a start in either European game and could use a strong Clausura but the coaches like having a third center forward option, and that's something El Cepillo provides. He also showed calm finishing against Honduras back in October. That Osorio wanted him in both the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup before America protested speaks to how highly he values Peralta's contributions.


Outside looking in


Trending up: Jurgen Damm (Tigres winger), Cesar Montes (Monterrey center back), Omar Govea (Royal Excel Mouscron midfielder), Uriel Antuna (Groningen midfielder), Victor Guzman (Pachuca midfielder)

Trending down: Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas center back), Erick Gutierrez (Pachuca midfielder),Alan Pulido (Chivas forward), Hugo Gonzalez (Monterrey goalkeeper), Adrian Aldrete (Cruz Azul left back), Orbelin Pineda (Chivas midfielder), Jesus Molina (Monterrey midfielder), Luis Reyes (Atlas left back), Moises Munoz (Puebla goalkeeper)


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