Mexico call on mostly Europe-based squad for Belgium and Poland tests
Mexico national team writer Tom Marshall brings us five takes from Mexico's squad that will face Belgium in Brussels on Nov. 10 and Poland in Gdansk on Nov. 13:
Elias Hernandez the main absentee
Uriel Antuna and Omar Govea aside, there haven't been any real surprises in coach Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexico squads recently. The squad's core is made up of Mexico's foreign legion -- 16 of the 26-player squad -- and is fairly easy to predict.
There are a variety of reasons for that. First, Mexico's depth in terms of players being featured in top leagues isn't as strong as it could be. Second, Osorio has worked with more than 60 players in his three years as El Tri coach; he knows virtually all the potential candidates and how they can fit in to what he wants to do. And he seems to have settled on his core. Third, the coaching staff, including mental coach Imanol Ibarrondo, have carefully constructed a strong and united group.
But still, when Osorio doesn't call up players who are performing at the peak of their careers, it goes against the general theory that national teams should be picked based on current form.
The player with the most reason to feel aggrieved this time around is Leon winger Elias Hernandez. The 29-year-old has six goals and seven assists to his name and has created 35 chances in 13 matches this 2017 Apertura for La Fiera. He can't do much more at club level, although his performances at the Gold Cup against weaker opposition blew hot and cold.
Behind Hernandez, Pachuca duo Erick Gutierrez and Victor Guzman will be disappointed not to get in, while Rodolfo Pizarro and Orbelin Pineda have suffered along with Chivas' poor season.
Dos Santos brothers, Vela hold spots
There's an ongoing debate with Mexico fans about Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos and Carlos Vela. It seems as though they are lumped into the same conversation. Perhaps it is because they are friends, or that they all went to Europe young, or, more likely, because the Dos Santos brothers play in MLS for LA Galaxy, while Vela will soon be joining Los Angeles F.C.
But there are significant differences in terms of how the trio fits in with Mexico.
Jonathan dos Santos was arguably Mexico's best player last summer at the Confederations Cup and the idea that the 27-year-old should suddenly be behind Guzman, Pizarro, Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez or Pineda doesn't make a lot of sense.
Vela's situation at Real Sociedad is concerning, but then this is one of very few left-footed players in the Mexican player pool and, in the end, he still can produce moments of genius in games that most players simply aren't capable of.
Then there is Giovani, who certainly has not lived up to expectations in a poor Galaxy side or El Tri in 2017. There is arguably more pressure on Giovani's spot in the national team, but Osorio places emphasis on having a player around who has more than 100 caps.
Both Giovani and Vela can play as left-sided midfielders, according to Osorio's past statements, meaning they offer more versatility in comparison to others.
It's the same with Jurgen Damm, who can play as a wide midfielder in a 3-4-3, or as a right winger in a 4-3-3, and is on the squad despite not having many minutes this season with Tigres.
Opportunity for Cesar Montes
It is easy to forget that Monterrey center-back Cesar Montes is only 20. It's not only the fact he's started 73 Liga MX games and seems to have been around for years, but it's also his sheer size. The 1.91-metre defender is beginning to fill into his huge frame, and that's potentially a significant asset for Mexico.
That said, this is a big test for Montes. If he plays in either of the two games, he'll likely be dealing with Belgium's Romelu Lukaku or Poland's Robert Lewandowski.
Osorio would be throwing him in the deep end and it'll be a significant test for Montes. Pass it and Montes could make a run at the squad and even a starting spot for the World Cup.
Antuna, Govea there for experience
It would be unwise to doubt the potential of 20-year-old Groningen winger Antuna or 21-year-old Royal Excel Mouscron midfielder Govea, but this call-up is more about integrating the young players into the national team set-up than anything else. Let's not forget that Osorio named 26 players for this squad and that the duo is based within driving distance of Mexico's camp in Brussels, where El Tri will be training from Monday.
It should be viewed more in line with what Osorio did last summer at the Confederations Cup, when he brought Club America's Edson Alvarez and Chivas' Alejandro Mayorga into camp, than a statement suggesting either is on course to go to the World Cup. Inviting them makes sense.
Osorio actually wanted Antuna to travel to Russia for the Confederations Cup, but the logistics didn't work. Osorio described him as Mexico's "third-fastest player" on Friday.
If you wanted to be a little bolder, you could make the argument that this is a statement from Osorio that suggests he is very much on board with players like Antuna and Govea heading out to Europe at a young age, rather than the traditional route of establishing themselves in Liga MX first.
Real tests coming up
These games might be friendlies for Mexico in name, but for a national team constantly balancing commitments in the United States with finding tough tests to prime it for World Cups, this is as real as it gets.
These are the first friendlies for Mexico in Europe since November 2014 and are against the No. 5 (Belgium) and No. 6 (Poland) teams in the FIFA rankings.
How Osorio will set up, especially against a Belgium side loaded with attacking talent, will be intriguing. One of the major criticisms of Osorio with Mexico so far has been the way the team capitulated 7-0 to Chile in the 2016 Copa America and lost to Germany 4-1 in last summer's Confederations Cup.
Positive results wouldn't erase the past, but they would inject confidence into the side and keep Osorio's fierce critics at bay into the new year.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.