'Cubo' Torres, Elias Hernandez lead youthful Mexico into the Gold Cup
Regardless of the fact that Mexico will have a backup roster for the 2017 Gold Cup, a title will still be expected from El Tri this summer.
Following a less than exciting fourth-place finish in the Confederations Cup, Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio will now need to immediately shift gears to July's CONCACAF tournament. If Osorio is hoping to walk away from the competition with a trophy in hand, he will need several fringe national team options to step up this month.
Here are five key players for El Tri who have the talent to carry the squad to an eighth Gold Cup title.
Jose de Jesus Corona, 36, GK
Don't let his age fool you, Corona is a well-respected leader who continues to be one of the best goalkeepers from Mexico. Although he might not be at the same level as a younger option such as Guillermo Ochoa, the 36-year-old is capable of providing game-changing saves in net for El Tri.
Recently, Corona looked impressive in the friendlies against Paraguay and Ghana. With a little more than 140 minutes in hand, the veteran allowed only one goal over the two matches. In truth, were it not for the Cruz Azul player, El Tri might have lost the Ghana friendly in late June.
As expected, Osorio will also probably give opportunities in net to Moises Munoz and Miguel Fraga, but Corona is undoubtedly the main figure who should steal the most minutes of the trio. Keeping this in mind, the goalkeeper must continue his recent good form in order to help Mexico to another championship.
Jesus Gallardo, 22, LB
Despite the fact that Gallardo is typically more of a winger, the 22-year-old is set to be a high-pressing left-back for El Tri this summer. Once again looking at the friendlies against Paraguay and Ghana, Gallardo was a vital component that helped Mexico's 4-3-3 formation transition into a 3-4-3 in the attack.
The youngster exudes confidence and should have no trouble making it into a Gold Cup highlight reel or two with his risk-taking runs down the left wing.
That said, Gallardo must fine-tune his defensive game. The Pumas player, who at times struggles with his marking, can sometimes turn into a detrimental presence in the backline. Against a team such as the United States, an off-day for Gallardo would develop into a weak link for the defense.
However, if he can continue working on his defensive abilities, there's no telling what he can accomplish in the Gold Cup. Keep an eye on the agile dribbler who should be motivated to make a name for himself for Mexico.
Erick Gutierrez, 22, CM
Well-rounded and technically gifted, Gutierrez is an invaluable asset to El Tri's midfield.
Often lost in the limelight of fellow Pachuca product Hirving Lozano, the 22-year-old is an intelligent and energetic player who is a star in the making for the national team. Through his leadership and near-perfect distribution of the ball, Gutierrez at times appears like a veteran in Liga MX.
Now, with increased attention before the upcoming competition, the Pachuca player must prove that he is capable of the hype that continues to surround him. Looking forward, he must also show that he has the talents to compete for a spot with Mexico's senior squad.
At the moment, Gutierrez is a backup player with a decent chance of sneaking onto the World Cup roster. There's still clearly plenty of time before the 2018 tournament, but the midfielder is well aware of what a strong performance in the Gold Cup could mean for his burgeoning national team career.
Elias Hernandez, 29, RW
Often seen as an underrated name, Hernandez now has a big chance to prove that he is worthy of a key role at the Gold Cup.
Thanks to his incessant energy, the 29-year-old will be Mexico's playmaker and catalyst in the attack. The Leon player is capable of providing dangerous crosses, crafty dribbling and a powerful shot. If there's one name that opposing defenses will be worried about, it should be Hernandez in the Gold Cup.
Against Paraguay and Ghana, Hernandez was brilliant on the right wing for Mexico and a constant source of attacking pressure. Also worth noting is the momentum that he will have after scoring twice for El Tri in the aforementioned friendlies.
Erick Torres, 24, ST
Originally left off the Gold Cup roster, Torres is now the best option to lead the attack after an injury to Alan Pulido last week.
The striker is in red-hot form, and with 12 goals and two assists in 17 appearances for the Houston Dynamo, "Cubo" is likely to get the start as El Tri's out-and-out striker. No longer suffering a serious goal-scoring drought in MLS, Torres will be charging into the tournament with his improved finishing and distribution.
As long as he can work well with Rodolfo Pizarro and Hernandez in the frontline, there should be no reason that Mexico won't win the Gold Cup. If "Cubo" is also able to maintain his form from MLS, he will have a good chance of finishing the competition as the top goal scorer.
After plenty of ups and downs in his short career, the stage is now set for Torres to lead Mexico in a major tournament.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.