Alan Pulido injury gives Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio pause for thought
The night was on the verge of turning into a positive one. Ahead of its Gold Cup debut, Mexico's national team finished its preparations with a 2-1 win over Paraguay at Seattle's CenturyLink Field. Rodolfo Pizarro and Elias Hernandez scored El Tri's goals in the first 45 minutes, in which the team displayed its best football of the evening.
Five Chivas players -- including Pizarro, Orbelin Pineda and Alan Pulido -- appeared in Mexico's starting XI and their familiarity stood out, allowing Mexico to put on a show in the first half.
However, in the 57th minute, Pulido fell to the ground after an aerial battle with defender Luis Cardozo. As both players landed, Cardozo fell on Pulido's right arm, fracturing the forward's humerus in the process. With Pulido's injury confirmed, Mexico will have to either call up Oribe Peralta or Erick "Cubo" Torres to replace him.
Luis Pompilio Paez, in charge of El Tri until Juan Carlos Osorio and the team in Russia complete their run at the Confederations Cup, said: "Alan was important in that first half, where Mexico proved to be superior in the associations, and in the movement of the ball.
"A lot of our danger came from the left side of the pitch because of the possibilities that came via the Chivas players."
Pulido, who was coming off a minor knee injury, didn't take part in the Ghana friendly last Wednesday because Paez thought it best to give him some rest. Against Paraguay, the initial plan was to give him 45 minutes, but Pulido asked the Colombian coach to give him 15 extra minutes in the second half.
It was a decision based on his desire to use every possible minute to impress, as he's regarded by Mexico's coaching staff to be the forward closest to Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez and Peralta's level.
"Pulido is very close in competing for a place with the three strikers that we have in the Confederations Cup," Paez said after the last friendly before Mexico's debut in the Gold Cup. "I'm talking about Javier Hernandez, who's a great finisher; Oribe Peralta, who's great at holding the ball with his back to goal, great at using his body and great in the aerial game; [and] Raul [Jimenez] is like a combination of both."
The panorama changes without Pulido in the picture. There was hope in the camp that the attacking tandem he had created with Pizarro at Chivas would also be seen in the Gold Cup, but now complications arise because it feels like the team will need to familiarize its dynamic style with another forward: Peralta or Torres.
Neither of the two has been part of the training camp that took place in the last three weeks, where this Gold Cup team was able to pinpoint exact ideas that will become vital once the tournament gets underway.
Peralta, who is in Russia, appears to be the first option, but Club America looks to be adamant on letting him participate in two summer tournaments, although he's only played 101 minutes in the Confederations Cup.
Meanwhile, Torres has been notified by El Tri's coaching staff on multiple occasions that he's in consideration, but when it came time to take out the final list, strikers like Martin Barragan and Angel Sepulveda were chosen before the Houston Dynamo striker, who has 12 goals in the current MLS season.
After the Texas Derby, ESPN FC asked Torres about the prospect of not being part of Mexico's Gold Cup team. "We have to keep waiting and keep training as well as possible," he said. "Anything can happen. In previous call-ups I've experienced, there have been changes due to injuries. Thousands of things can happen.
"At the end, [the decision is not in my hands]. I'm doing my part, and if I'm selected I will give my best for my country, but if not, I will have to keep working hard because the Dynamo is on the right track this season," he said.
Torres has scored in the Dynamo's last two games, but the team was unable to win either of them.
If Torres is called up, he will reunite with Pizarro, Raul Lopez, Cesar Montes and Erick Gutierrez, all of whom were his teammates in last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where Mexico was eliminated in the group stage.
Without Pulido, Mexico loses a significant piece to the puzzle, but it doesn't take away from the fact that El Tri will still have a dynamic side heading into the tournament. Pulido's injury could all of a sudden become Torres' golden chance as he seeks to get Osorio's attention.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.