Jesus Corona, Chicharito Hernandez the keys for Mexico vs. Canada
Mexico's battle for World Cup qualification will return Friday night when El Tri visits Vancouver to take on Canada.
With three big points on the line before next Tuesday's rematch in Mexico City, here are five things to watch:
1. Canada's fan base
Mexico should prepare for a big crowd in Vancouver. Over 53,500 tickets have been sold for the event, leaving just a few hundred open for the match in BC Place.
Although El Tri is accustomed to large crowds, this will likely be one of the rare games this year in which most of the fans will be rooting against Mexico. It should also be noted that Canada has yet to lose a game at home since 2013 and hasn't lost to Mexico at home since 1993.
On paper, El Tri should have no problems against Canada in either of the two matches, but the significant number of Canadian supporters may prove to be a difference-maker in the first leg of this World Cup qualifying series.
Then again, this is all under the assumption that most of the fans will be Canadian. Mexico aficionados love to travel quite far for any game and might show up with a surprisingly large contingent in Vancouver.
2. Hirving Lozano and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona
CONCACAF matches involving Mexico can usually be fairly predictable. Outside of maybe the United States and Costa Rica, most sides tend to sit back and stay organized defensively against El Tri. The strategy has at times frustrated Mexico and left the team with narrow losses or draws.
Even at home tomorrow, Canada appears likely to do the same against a superior Mexican side. If Mexico struggles to create chances in the final third and is left playing against a team that has parked the bus, who will save El Tri? Lozano and "Tecatito" are perfect candidates to shake up the Canadians' defense.
With plenty of pace and excellent dribbling skills, each winger has the potential to break through a heavily-defensive side. Along with Lozano's stamina and Corona's ridiculously quick feet, the Canadian defense will definitely have a few headaches while trying to defend either player -- if they are given the start.
Other options like Marco Fabian, Javier Aquino or Isaac Brizuela could also play as one of the wingers.
3. El Tri's goalkeeper
At the moment, Toluca's Alfredo Talavera appears to be the candidate who will most likely start in net. Although there is no confirmation yet, Osorio has given plenty of praise to the 33-year-old, who has collected numerous national team call-ups since 2011.
If given the start, the veteran will have a great opportunity to cement himself as the best option in net for Mexico in a year that also includes the Copa America. However, there is a possibility that Cruz Azul's Jose de Jesus Corona may instead start on Friday, or be given a chance in next week's match in Mexico City.
Corona has rebuilt his once lackluster form and could steal the starting spot away from Talavera. Last month in the 2-0 friendly win over Senegal, the 35-year-old was arguably one of the best players for Mexico.
As for Pumas' Alejandro Palacios, the Liga MX veteran will need a miracle in order to start one of the two matches. At the moment, it seems very doubtful that "Pikolin" will get his first minutes with the national team at any point soon.
4. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez
There is no player like "Chicharito" on this roster. No other Mexican striker gets the same amount of attention or importance as the Bayer Leverkusen star.
The 27-year-old will easily be the focal point for El Tri and will be the main target for passes and crosses going forward. A good day in the office for the striker almost always means a good result for the national team as well.
That being said, Hernandez is in the midst of a small dip in form during his amazing season in Germany. The striker only has one goal in his last eight games in all competitions and is still attempting to rediscover the goalscoring momentum -- 10 goals in eight matches -- he had before his injury and suspension last month.
However, Hernandez always seems to bounce back for club and country and could do it against Canada. Keep an eye on the "Little Pea."
5. Osorio's perfect run
Osorio is still in a honeymoon phase with Mexico. Fans and journalists are still interested in his idiosyncrasies, his infamous journal, the pens he keeps in socks as well as his studious demeanor during press conferences.
With just three matches played under the manager and no losses, there is little to criticize -- for now.
The Colombian's decision to leave out players like Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Guillermo Ochoa raised a few eyebrows from fans who were confused to see some of their favorite players left out.
If Osorio walks away with a win, everything will continue as normal for the manager who is currently on smooth sailing. Yet, if he loses or even walks away with a draw, the denunciation of Osorio may soon start to build among the many fickle fans and critics. The manager must remember that the road to the World Cup is a long one.
Cesar Hernandez can't remember a time when soccer hasn't been a part of his daily life. Within that is a lifelong passion for El Tri. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.