Mexico's fringe players get final chance to make World Cup case
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio named a 23-player squad Thursday ahead of El Tri's first match of 2018, next Wednesday against Bosnia and Herzegovina in San Antonio.
Here are five takes from the all-Liga MX/MLS list:
Not many World Cup places up for grabs
Some in Mexico have criticized Osorio for his rotation policy, but when it comes to the core of his squad for FIFA international dates and major tournaments, it's actually been very consistent.
Basically, the established Europe-based players are in, and those playing outside the old continent have to squeeze their way around them for a place. The 23 names in Mexico's squad to face Bosnia and Herzegovina can be put loosely into four categories, providing a framework for next week's game.
The first is those players with minimal chances of making the World Cup squad, barring some major improvement or injuries to others. Gibran Lajud, Jonathan Orozco, Jorge Hernandez and Henry Martin fall into that category.
Behind them are the ones who are on the rise and need to do something special to move up the pecking order: Cesar Montes, Luis Rodriguez, Jonathan Gonzalez, Victor Guzman, Orbelin Pineda, Rodolfo Pizarro and Alan Pulido.
Next comes the fringe players, who have regularly been involved in Osorio's squads but can't be guaranteed a spot at the World Cup: Rodolfo Cota, Jesus Gallardo, Hugo Ayala, Jurgen Damm, Oswaldo Alanis and Elias Hernandez.
Finally, those who right now are already in touching distance of booking a ticket to Russia: Nestor Araujo, Edson Alvarez, Jonathan dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela.
Gonzalez saga reaches end, but work begins now
What an incredible past seven months it has been for 18-year-old Californian Gonzalez. From not even having made his debut in Liga MX last July to being on the cusp of becoming a full El Tri international, the midfielder's life has been turned upside-down.
Many in the United States see Gonzalez's switching to Mexico as the end of a saga, but for the player, this first call-up has to be seen as only the beginning. The trapdoors and diversions ahead for such a young player thrust into the spotlight are widely known. Many players have been hyped and not lived up to the expectation because their focus shifted away from the field.
If Gonzalez can keep his feet firmly planted on the ground, there is a potential World Cup this summer, adoration by Mexican-American El Tri fans particularly and even a move to Europe in the not-too-distant future.
Gonzalez has earned his shot with Mexico through his performances for Monterrey, but he'd be wise to tattoo onto his conscience a phrase from Rayados manager Antonio Mohamed earlier this month: "[Gonzalez] has to deal with [national-team interest] like he had to deal with playing in a team that was in first place and playing in a final at 18 years old. He's got to do the same in this situation. He has to understand that these things can't make you lose focus on your objective and that if [national teams] talk about him, it's solely down to what he's done on the pitch. I've told him he has to dedicate himself to playing."
Martin call-up shows lack of depth up front
Club America's Martin might go on to become a good player for Mexico. He's certainly started the season brightly and looks in top condition on his return to the national team. But for a country as big and populous as Mexico and with a strong league, Martin call-up to the national team should open a major debate, even though Oribe Peralta was rested from this squad.
Why? Martin is 25, has just 29 first-division starts and only seven first-division goals (two of which have come in 2018). His competition for the start up front against Bosnia, Pulido, hasn't done much, either. The Chivas striker netted his first goal since last May this past weekend.
That there are so few Mexican strikers playing regularly anywhere might or might not affect El Tri this summer, but long term it definitely will.
Guzman deserves real chance vs. Bosnia
Pachuca's 22-year-old attacking midfielder Guzman was the top Mexican-born scorer in the 2017 Apertura, with eight goals (zero from the penalty spot). He's had to wait patiently for his spot with El Tri, but it has been fully deserved.
Osorio should start Guzman against Bosnia and give him a real chance to make an impact. It's obviously going to be difficult given just how soon the World Cup is approaching, but Mexico's midfield -- based around the Hector Herrera/Andres Guardado axis -- isn't known for its goals, and Guzman does provide a different, more attacking option.
Duenas, Torres Nilo headline absentees
Along with Jesus Molina, who isn't starting regularly for Monterrey, the Tigres duo of Jesus Duenas and Jorge Torres Nilo can now almost be ruled out of World Cup contention, given that they haven't made this list.
Torres Nilo was a regular with Mexico for years and was given chances by Osorio, but he's been completely erased of late, while Duenas fell out of favor after not turning up for national-team duty ahead of the Confederations Cup. Still, it's a bold call from Osorio, given all three are in their prime and have been among the better Mexican players in Liga MX for years.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.