Dos Santos, Lozano absences for Mexico compound Osorio's challenge
Mexico announced its 25-player squad for World Cup qualifying games against Costa Rica (March 24, Estadio Azteca) and Trinidad & Tobago (March 28, Port of Spain) on Thursday.
Here are five thoughts on the team ahead of the two vital matches:
1. Injuries taking a toll
The LA Galaxy's Giovani dos Santos, Porto's Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Eintracht Frankfurt's Marco Fabian, Tigres' Javier Aquino and Pachuca's Hirving Lozano were all left out through injury. Their omissions leave Juan Carlos Osorio's squad significantly weaker in an area of the field the coach deems vital to winning matches: out wide.
Corona, Dos Santos and Lozano in particular are key figures in Osorio's current plans and would surely have played against Costa Rica, in one of the most important matches of the Hexagonal phase of qualifying for El Tri.
The replacements are Pumas' Jesus Gallardo, Leon's Luis Montes and his club teammate Elias Hernandez. All are good Liga MX players -- and Gallardo is a youngster to keep an eye on -- but none are at the level of those missing out.
The injuries could force Osorio's hand tactically, too. Against Iceland last month, the manager experimented with an ultra-attacking 3-4-3, but with key personnel missing, he might have to think of other solutions to get past what is likely to be a compact and defensive Costa Rica.
2. Osorio's squads understandably predictable
There aren't many surprises in this Mexico squad and there are unlikely to be many for the important games between now and the World Cup. Sure, there will be debate over whether Montes should be in this time ahead of Chivas' Rodolfo Pizarro, whether Atlas' Luis Reyes has done enough to warrant a call and over the lack of playing time Europe-based players like Raul Jimenez and Carlos Salcedo have been getting. But you can pretty much guarantee that Mexico's 12-strong European contingent will be in there and make up the core of the squad's starters.
From there, Liga MX regulars Nestor Araujo, Oswaldo Alanis, Jesus Molina, Jesus Duenas, Rafa Marquez, Oribe Peralta, Jurgen Damm and Alfredo Talavera are in if they are playing for their clubs and injury-free, leaving very few spots for different or surprise picks.
Osorio has stressed repeatedly that he'd like to see a lot more Mexicans featuring in Europe, but that dream is unlikely to happen between now and Russia 2018, meaning the coach will have to get by with what he has. And with the Mexico national team player pool not as deep as some of the favorites for the World Cup, it's not that difficult to predict an Osorio squad these days.
3. Attack-minded Reyes replaces Torres Nilo
Tigres' Jorge Torres Nilo has been one of the staples of the Mexico national team in recent years. A physically robust left-back, his strength is as a defender who marks the winger and he's been overlooked this time around for 25-year-old "Huesos" Reyes of Atlas.
Reyes made his Mexico debut last month against Iceland and is much more versatile than Torres Nilo. The Atlas player is a full-back for his club, but is adept offensively and could be used as a wing-back or wide midfielder, as he was against Iceland.
With Mexico facing two sides that are likely to sit back and soak up pressure for large swathes of the upcoming qualifiers, it is likely Osorio preferred the more attacking option and Reyes has a big chance to impress and become more of a regular.
4. Pineda the pick of the Mexico-based youngsters
After established winger Lozano, the youngster who continues to appear on Osorio's lists for big national team meet-ups is 20-year-old Orbelin Pineda.
The Chivas midfielder has been lauded by both Osorio and his club manager Matias Almeyda and is maturing into a player capable of challenging Hector Herrera and more settled names for a starting spot. His development and playing time over these upcoming matches and ahead of the World Cup will be fascinating.
The likes of Erick Gutierrez, Edson Alvarez, Cesar Montes, Pizarro, Angel Zaldivar and Raul Lopez have all been in and out the Mexico squad and remain future national team players, but it is Pineda who is edging ahead of the pack of chasing youngsters.
5 Lack of full-backs suggests back three
Once again there are a lack of natural full-backs in this Mexico squad, with only Miguel Layun and Reyes normally playing there for club sides. Sure, there are other options, like Duenas, Diego Reyes, Salcedo, Alanis and even Damm, but the fact there are six center-backs in the squad suggests Osorio would prefer to play a formation with three center-backs, obviously depending on how the opposition sets up.
The problem is further heightened by the lack of quality full-backs in Mexico, especially with Club America's Paul Aguilar out.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.