From Erick Gutierrez to Raul Lopez: Mexico players with plenty to prove
Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has quite a busy schedule ahead of him.
In addition to upcoming friendlies (Saturday, May 27 against Croatia and Thursday, June 1 against Ireland) and FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Osorio will also have to navigate through the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup with El Tri. It's no easy task and with plenty of matches during the next couple of months, the coach will need to work through a long list of players.
Last week, Osorio named an initial 32-man roster that will be whittled down to 23 after the friendlies. Keeping this in mind, several backup and fringe options will have limited opportunities to showcase their talents before a possible cut. With Mexico's first of two exhibitions scheduled for Saturday in Los Angeles against Croatia, here are five players who have plenty to prove this weekend.
Raul Lopez, DF, Pachuca
If Osorio decides to go with a four-man back line, there is a good chance that Lopez will be given the start at right-back. Although the 24-year-old has a solid defensive presence, he truly shines through his crosses and movement up the field. The defender is also capable of dangerous shots from distance that can become a headache for any goalkeeper.
The problem here for Lopez is that others, like Carlos Salcedo and Jesus Duenas, are ahead of him in this position. Looking at the recent call-up list, Osorio might not think twice about cutting the Pachuca defender next week.
However, due to the absences of Salcedo and Duenas for Saturday's friendly, Lopez has a big opportunity to fight for a spot on the roster.
Elias Hernandez, MF, Leon
Depending on who you ask, some see Hernandez as an underrated name in Liga MX. The energetic 29-year-old is clever with the ball and a constant threat with his passes and crosses on the flanks.
Unfortunately for him, though, Mexico is stacked in midfield and on the wings. Hernandez is an exciting option, but when compared to the likes of Carlos Vela or Hirving Lozano, the agile Morelia product has a difficult time stealing the spotlight. A standout performance against Croatia could easily change that.
Despite the fact that Hernandez appears more suited for a role in the Gold Cup, he might be able to win Osorio over with a strong showing in Los Angeles.
Erick Gutierrez, MF, Pachuca
Typically lost in Lozano's shadow, many Pachuca and Mexico fans at times forget about Gutierrez. But at just 21, the centre-midfielder looks like a veteran for Los Tuzos with his intelligent distribution and ball control. It must also be noted that the youngster has worn the captain's armband for his club.
The kid is destined to become a starter with the national team, but must prove that he is worthy of a spot in the XI and on the roster here. Like Hernandez and most other names on this list, El Tri has plenty of options in Gutierrez's position.
That said, Gutierrez has the abilities to keep up with the best for Mexico. Of the five players listed here, the Pachuca man is the one who is most likely to impress. It will be exciting to see if Osorio gives him a chance in the starting XI against Croatia on Saturday.
Jesus Gallardo, FW, Pumas
Although Gallardo has a long way to go before reaching the level of a Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, it's difficult not to see some similarities between the two.
The 22-year-old exudes confidence and when he's in the mood, he can take charge for his club in the attack. Like Corona, the winger also struggles with consistency and can go a few games without much influence moving forward.
If given minutes, Gallardo must take advantage of his time with El Tri. Once again looking at this roster, Osorio has no lack of options on the wings or with attack-minded midfielders.
Considering Pumas' lackadaisical finish to the regular season, Gallardo will also have plenty of work to do in order to win over some doubters.
Jorge Hernandez, MF, Pachuca
The odds are slim for Hernandez. On paper, the hard-working 27-year-old is somewhere near the fourth or fifth spot on El Tri's depth chart in the defensive-midfield position. Names like Rafael Marquez, Jesus Molina or Diego Reyes are more likely to get minutes than "Burrito" on Saturday.
Even in a Gold Cup roster, it's tough to see the midfielder as a potential starter for Mexico's backup squad. He has been irrelevant to El Tri for a few years now and is in desperate need of an impressive appearance this weekend. If he's given a chance to step onto the field, the midfielder must hit the ground running in Los Angeles.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.