Several players make World Cup case as rusty Mexico rumbles to win
SAN ANTONIO -- Three thoughts from Mexico's 1-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina on Wednesday at the Alamodome in El Tri's first game of 2018:
1. Experimental Mexico coast to victory
A Hugo Ayala header in the 65th minute earned the win for Mexico in front of 26, 867 in San Antonio to start El Tri's 2018 off on the right foot. But this wasn't a match that will live long in the memory.
The game lacked rhythm and cohesion from Mexico. It was perhaps natural that it should, given the inexperience in B&H's squad and the number of Mexico players going into the match without regular playing time. Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos' last competitive game was Oct. 22, while Carlos Vela hadn't played since Dec. 22. And Mexico-based duo Oswaldo Alanis and Jesus Molina haven't featured much for their clubs of late, either.
Osorio also employed some tactical tweaks that the players will likely need more time to adapt to. Two days training isn't enough for players to feel comfortable in new roles. And with Russia 2018 coming up, time is something that this Mexico and United States-based group of players don't have.
Chivas' Orbelin Pineda was disappointing on the left wing, while Vela played the first half as a interior midfielder, switching to the right wing after the break. On the other side, Giovani dos Santos was wide left, with Elias Hernandez -- a winger -- inside him in.
There were decent performances from Ayala, Molina, "Burrito" Hernandez and Jesus Gallardo, but the fringe players didn't really step up, although Bosnia's organization must be praised.
To put the night in perspective, it's entirely possible that not one of Wednesday's starters will be in the XI to face Germany on June 17 in Mexico's World Cup opener.
2. Molina could be option in midfield
One of the few players to improve their chances of involvement in the March friendlies and potentially at the World Cup was Monterrey's Jesus Molina. Osorio has struggled to identify a regular in the position, with Diego Reyes probably the most likely starter right now. But Porto's Reyes is more comfortable at center-back and is more of a fill-in in midfield, rather than an absolute solution.
Molina, on the other hand, is a true defensive midfielder and knows the position inside out. Against Bosnia, there was nothing to really grab headlines and he was taken off at half-time to make way for Hernandez.
Players in that defensive role are doing their job when they go about their business without fuss, circulating play, using their reading of the game to be in the right position to shield the defense. That's what Molina did over his 45 minutes on the field.
And if you look at which fringe Mexico players not only did OK on Wednesday night, but also could plug gaps that need to be filled -- i.e. the holding tole -- Molina should have a decent chance of further involvement ahead of the World Cup.
The Monterrey player is 1.89 meters, good in the air -- which is vital for Osorio -- and in his prime at 29-years-old.
Molina seems to check all the boxes, with the caveat that he isn't playing regularly for Monterrey, as Jonathan Gonzalez is preferred by manager Antonio Mohamed. If that changes between now and June, Molina may still be in with a shot at the World Cup.
3. Gonzalez makes debut
Speaking of Gonzalez, this game may well be best known in years to come as the one in which Mexico-U.S. dual national made his debut for El Tri.
The saga regarding his switch from U.S. Soccer must have felt like an age for the 18-year-old, but Gonzalez didn't look out of place with Mexico. In trainings ahead of the game, Gonzalez wore a wide smile and so he should; few players make international debuts aged 18.
Gonzalez came off the bench in the 57th minute to warm applause from Mexico fans, who tend to enjoy every opportunity to get one up on the United States.
Three minutes later, Gonzalez twisted and turned and sped away from a Bosnia forward in Mexico's half, before getting scythed down by Dino Besirovic.
The Santa Rosa, California native appeared to enjoy the stage, although he couldn't make this a perfect night by converting a good chance in the 86th minute.
Gonzalez featured in a much more advanced midfield role than he is accustomed to at Monterrey. It's a position in which Mexico is particularly strong and Gonzalez still has an uphill struggle to make Mexico's World Cup squad.
But if there is one thing we've learned about Gonzalez since he debuted for Monterrey last June, it's that when the bar is raised, the teenager tends to rise to the challenge.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.