Erick Gutierrez, rotation among talking points ahead of Mexico vs. Jamaica
DENVER -- Mexico take on Jamaica on Thursday in Denver in El Tri's second match of the Gold Cup, with a win enough to send the reigning champion through to the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Here are five talking points going into the game from the Mexican perspective:
Time for "Cubo" to start?
Coach Juan Carlos Osorio improvised up front in last Sunday's 3-1 victory over El Salvador, employing Angel Sepulveda -- normally a winger -- in a false 9 role. But the Colombian coach, who is one match into a six-game suspension, will need a real striker at some point in the tournament.
Houston Dynamo striker Erick "Cubo" Torres didn't see minutes against El Salvador, partly because he was a late inclusion in the squad to replace Alan Pulido, but he is in line to face Jamaica.
Torres, 24, has been in red-hot form in MLS so far in 2017, netting 12 goals in 18 games. If he does start, the former Chivas player needs to see the game as an opportunity to make a statement. With Oribe Peralta turning 34 before the World Cup next summer, Torres can use the Gold Cup to show the coach a sharper and younger striker is a better bet than a more experienced one.
How much will Osorio rotate?
In international tournaments so far in his stint in charge of Mexico, Osorio has made four changes between the first (Uruguay) and second game (Jamaica) at the Copa America Centenario and eight between the Portugal opener and second game against New Zealand at the Confederations Cup last month.
Against Jamaica in this Gold Cup, the rotation is likely to be in-between the two, with the major changes probably saved for Sunday against Curacao -- should Mexico defeat Jamaica. Osorio may rotate goalkeepers and bring in the experienced Moises Munoz; Tigres right-back Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez is set to start at right-back, while Orbelin Pineda, Erick Gutierrez and Torres could also be in the starting XI.
There is a question mark over Chivas center-back Jair Pereira, who is back from injury, although he may not be risked until the final group stage game against Curacao. One player who won't be involved is young left-back Alejandro Mayorga, who is out with a knee complaint.
Can Mexico hold off the Jamaican counter?
Curacao may be ranked higher than Jamaica in the FIFA rankings, but Thursday's game is Mexico's most difficult in Group C. It's not that Jamaica are full of star names, or that there is much quality: What Theodore Whitmore's Reggae Boyz possess is pace and a direct style, which is traditionally Mexico's Achilles' heel.
Jamaica will have no pretensions to do anything other than wait for Mexican errors and pounce with balls into the channels to exploit the space El Tri leaves behind the defense. El Salvador was able to create far too many opportunities in the first half from the Mexican perspective and the Jamaican side is more explosive than La Selecta.
Osorio and his assistant Luis Pompilio Paez, who will once again be in charge on the bench, will want to see Mexico manage transitions from attack to defense much better than of late.
Where will Edson Alvarez feature?
Part of stopping the counters will involve Mexico's holding midfielder not getting caught out of position and leaving the defense exposed. Jesus Molina came off the bench at half-time to plug that problem last Sunday, but Alvarez is another option.
Of the younger group of Mexicans capable of realistically making the World Cup next year -- including Pineda, Rodolfo Pizarro, Gutierrez and Cesar Montes -- Alvarez is just ahead of the pack. Osorio clearly likes him a lot and part of the appeal is the Club America player's versatility.
Alvarez played right-back against El Salvador and has played a lot at center-back in Liga MX, but it'd be good to see him play in the holding role, where his long-term future with Mexico could lie.
Gutierrez needs to make impact
Midfielder Gutierrez has already captained his club Pachuca to the CONCACAF Champions League title and played over 100 games in Liga MX. For a 22-year-old, he is very experienced, having also featured regularly at youth national team level.
Crucially, Gutierrez is left-footed and Osorio is adamant that the left-back and left-midfielder should be left-footed if possible. The door is open to the technically supreme Gutierrez to become the natural successor to Andres Guardado, but there is a feeling Gutierrez hasn't impacted the full national team as yet, even if that may be slightly unfair with him having only played a little over 200 minutes.
The Sinaloa native is surely set to start Thursday and, like Torres, needs to make the most of the opportunity and become a key player in El Tri's Gold Cup campaign as soon as possible.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.