Mexico needs a new goal scorer to step into a bigger role at the Gold Cup
SAN DIEGO -- Juan Carlos Osorio's ban and criticism of his leadership has overshadowed the build-up to Mexico's Gold Cup opener against El Salvador on Sunday. But there is another burning issue for El Tri to address in the tournament: Who will get the goals?
Mexico's squad is a mix of fringe first-team players and young hopefuls, but does not feature a goal scorer with real international experience. The 23 players have only eight international goals between them; 29-year-old winger Elias Hernandez is the leading scorer with three, two of which came from the penalty spot in recent friendly wins over Ghana and Paraguay.
The pre-tournament injury to Chivas striker Alan Pulido represented a significant setback to Mexico, especially as bringing in forwards in for the knockout stage might not be as easy as it would be for other Gold Cup teams, given Liga MX gets its season underway on July 21.
This is a wider issue, extending beyond the Gold Cup and into the A squad. On the face of it, Mexico is well-served in the striker department. Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta and Raul Jimenez provide both depth and options in terms of type of striker.
But Hernandez is 29, Peralta is 33 and Jimenez often has been preferred by Osorio cutting inside from the left wing. Behind Pulido, whose shoulder injury will rule him out until November, there isn't really anyone pushing the leading names.
But with none of the above involved in the Gold Cup, the opportunity exists for 24-year-old Erick "Cubo" Torres, 25-year-old Martin Barragan and, perhaps, for 26-year-old Angel Sepulveda, who is usually a winger. Shine at the tournament in the United States over the next three weeks and the path will be open to becoming a realistic option up front.
There is an assumption that Torres is the next in line. His pedigree saw him come through the Chivas youth system and, when he scored his first Liga MX goal at just 18, "Cubo" was labeled the next "Chicharito."
But things didn't go to plan for Torres in Guadalajara after a promising start and Chivas shipped him off to Chivas USA, where 22 goals in 44 games confirmed the talent was still there.
It also earned Torres a move to Houston, but his first two seasons there were difficult; the striker didn't score a single league goal. It's only been under Wilmer Cabrera this year that Torres has exploded, with 12 goals in 18 games.
But Barragan shouldn't be discounted and, let's not forget, he was above Torres in the pecking order when the squad was named. Good in the air -- even though he's not very tall -- he is a workhorse up front and adept at bringing others into play.
Elsewhere, Osorio has deeper options and he'll wrestle with whether to go with experience or blood youngsters. That decision could be influenced by the pressure on the coach as El Tri embarks on a tournament that was supposed to be a chance to see backup options, but is becoming another referendum on the merits of Osorio remaining in charge.
In goal, Jesus Corona is probably just ahead of Moises Munoz with Miguel Fraga backing them up, although it would be no surprise if each keeper got a game during the group stage.
In defense, 26-year-old right-back Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez and left-back Luis Reyes, who was at the Confederations Cup, are both attacking players and will likely start against El Salvador, but it is at center-back that things become really interesting.
Hugo Ayala and Jair Pereira are both experienced and solid Liga MX defenders, but Monterrey's Cesar Montes is a player with the potential to be a regular for Mexico for the next decade if he can prove himself. Osorio likes to have a left-footed player in the left center-back slot and Hedgardo Marin fits the bill in a problematic position, especially when Hector Moreno isn't around.
In the holding midfield role, Jesus Molina brings the experience and Jorge Hernandez the energy, but Edson Alvarez is a youngster Osorio likes and he, like Montes, has the potential to be a fixture of the national team for years.
Jesus Duenas would normally have gone to the Confederations Cup and will be battling it out for a start with Orbelin Pineda on the right of midfield; Pachuca's Erick Gutierrez is set to be the left-sided midfielder in a 4-3-3.
Up front, Elias Hernandez will likely be on the right, with Rodolfo Pizarro on the left and either Torres, Barragan or Sepulveda in the center.
Osorio's squad has enough to get through a group containing El Salvador, Jamaica and Curacao, but he'll need at least one of the unproven strikers to make a mark if Mexico is to win the tournament.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.