Rafa Marquez set to return for Mexico in final summer tune-up against Ireland
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a month packed with important matches for the Mexican national team, Thursday's June 1 friendly against Ireland at MetLife Stadium is coach Juan Carlos Osorio's last chance to iron out any issues and hand out opportunities for players to impress.
After the game, Osorio will cut nine names from the 32-player bumper squad he named on May 16. The 23 players chosen will be with El Tri for World Cup qualifiers against Honduras on June 8 and the United States three days later and then will head to Russia for the Confederations Cup. The rest will have to settle for July's Gold Cup.
Osorio and his coaching staff internally selected a group of 20 core players before camp began on May 21, which indicates that the Colombian already has a firm idea of the players who will be on the list. All signs point to the vast majority of them being from Mexico's European legion.
"We have a group of 14 or 15 that is very solid, and we'll complete the squad, as we always have, with five or six players from the Mexican league," Osorio said Monday from Denver, Colorado.
But there have been a couple of set-backs since the original squad was announced.
Nestor Araujo fractured a finger during Mexico's 2-1 loss to Croatia on Saturday in Los Angeles, and word from Santos Laguna suggested that he would return to full training on June 12, which gives Osorio a dilemma as to whether to take a recovering player to the Confederations Cup.
"Honestly, Araujo's situation is very sad, and we will surely notice his absence, but the most important thing right now is that he recovers well and tries to come back as soon as possible," Osorio said, adding that Araujo is a key component to the team's ability to switch from two to three central defenders, depending on the formation used.
The news about Araujo was accentuated by Jesus Duenas' not turning up for camp in Denver due to a "personal issue." Tigres midfielder Duenas is in the form of his life, and his versatility is irreplaceable, though it is assumed that he would be available for the qualifiers, if he is picked, with some reports suggesting that Osorio is not at all happy with Duenas for not turning up on time.
One positive for Osorio is the potential return against Ireland of captain and leader Rafa Marquez. The 55-year-old Mexico coach suggested that the 38-year-old Marquez, who underwent back surgery on April 13 and hasn't played a game since March 24, will be given minutes against the Irish.
"He is very close," Osorio said. "The idea is that he participates against Ireland. We've not yet decided for how long and in what capacity, but he will be included."
Mexico traveled to the high altitude in Colorado immediately after the Croatia match in order to minimize the effects when the side returns to Mexico City on Friday to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers in Estadio Azteca. In the "Mile High City," Liga MX finalists Oswaldo Alanis, Rodolfo Cota, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm and Orbelin Pineda have joined the squad, as well as the last of the European contingent: Benfica's Raul Jimenez, Eintracht Frankfurt's Marco Fabian and Fiorentina's Carlos Salcedo.
The one player still missing from the 32-man squad -- aside from Duenas and Araujo -- is L.A. Galaxy's Giovani dos Santos, who will join up with El Tri in Mexico City to prepare for the Honduras game.
Aside from making final decisions about how to whittle down the names, there could be clues against Ireland about how Mexico might approach the June 11 World Cup qualifier against the United States.
Osorio described Martin O'Neill's Ireland squad as strong, athletic and "another team that will play direct football." The former Atletico Nacional coach has used similar words when talking about the Stars and Stripes. Will Mexico go for a similar 4-3-3 formation, as it did with devastating effect to nab victory in Columbus, Ohio, last November? Or will Osorio switch things up? How fit are certain players, with the likes of Miguel Layman, Carlos Salcedo, Hirving Lozano, Jesus Molina, Hector Herrera and Oribe Peralta not having played much in recent weeks?
It won't be easy against a decent Ireland squad, but a win would set Mexico up nicely for the qualifiers and shunt that Croatia blip to the back of everyone's mind. Regardless of the score, the real questions will surround Marquez, whom Osorio will choose to step up and replace Araujo and whether any of the fringe players can convince the manager that they are worthy of a Confederations Cup spot.
Possible 23-player Mexico squad for Confederations Cup:
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera, Rodolfo Cota
Defenders: Rafa Marquez, Diego Reyes, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Carlos Salcedo, Luis Reyes, Oswaldo Alanis
Midfielders: Jesus Molina, Jonathan dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jesus Duenas, Marco Fabian
Forwards: Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Hirving Lozano, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.