Five players Mexico will be reliant on at this summer's World Cup
MEXICO CITY -- The international break has been a mixed bag for Juan Carlos Osorio and the Mexico national team. On one hand, the team faced two of the world's higher-ranked teams and gained valuable lessons less than three months from the World Cup. On the other, key players picked up injuries, and Osorio's tactics came under fire after the team played listlessly for long stretches of both matches.
As time runs short before the premier international tournament, Mexico's quest to improve on its past exploits at the World Cup will come on two fronts. The team needs strong, cohesive play from the entire roster, yet it will also need to rely on a select group of individuals in key positions to navigate out of a tough group and a potential round-of-16 showdown with Brazil.
Here are five players Mexico will be reliant on this summer:
Hirving Lozano | 22 | Forward
The PSV man is Mexico's most in-form player on the attacking side of things. After an electrifying first season in the Netherlands, Lozano has shown to be El Tri's most dangerous player on offense.
Given Osorio's penchant for rotation, the challenge is finding suitable players up front to group Lozano with next summer. However, Lozano is equal parts scorer and facilitator, and his mere presence up front can worry teams to shift their focus toward him, freeing up others to do more damage.
Though he didn't score against Iceland and Croatia, Lozano clearly made Mexico a better team with him on the field than when he was on the bench.
Hector Moreno | 30 | Defender
Injuries to Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo have put Mexico's defensive line in a very precarious situation. Araujo had been Mexico's most in-form defender, and both he and Salcedo have physical makeups not commonly found among the rest of El Tri's pool at the position.
After a transfer to Roma last summer quickly went awry, Moreno is slowly but surely regaining his form at Real Sociedad -- his third club team in less than a year. He is also Mexico's most experienced defender outside of the legendary Rafa Marquez, and perhaps the only player (assuming both Salcedo and Araujo are out) left who can shoulder the load of leadership in the back.
It is likely Moreno will now have to command the back line with players he has not had too much training or game time with in recent times. He will also be switched on to the opposition's most fearsome attackers, a tough test for anyone. If Mexico is to have any defensive solidity in Russia, Moreno will be in charge of providing it.
Guillermo Ochoa | 32 | Goalkeeper
Speaking of defensive solidity, Ochoa is another man to watch next summer. Four years ago in Brazil, the Standard Liege goalkeeper pulled a rabbit out of his hat on more than one occasion, most notably against the hosts.
His penchant for spectacular saves will likely again be on display in Russia. This time, Ochoa may have a depleted back line in front of him, and a manager who has not yet committed to adding steel in the midfield to support his defense.
Ochoa is Mexico's most accomplished goalkeeper since Jorge Campos. The team will need everything from its starting goalkeeper if it wants to move forward in one of the tournament's toughest groups.
Javier Hernandez | 29 | Forward
For the third time in his career, Hernandez faces an uphill climb to be his country's featured striker at the World Cup. In 2010, it was manager Javier Aguirre who thought the young man was better off the bench. Four years later, he was coming off a rough go of it at the club level and behind other in-form strikers.
This time around, the West Ham striker is once again in dire need of consistency in order to convince his national-team staff he is the man for the job. Other than the aforementioned Lozano, Mexico's forwards are equally as in need of playing time as Hernandez.
Thus, there is a good chance Hernandez gets the lion's share of minutes at the World Cup for the first time, given his pedigree at his prior effectiveness with El Tri. Finally, "Chicharito" will get his chance.
Hector Herrera | 27 | Midfielder
As mentioned before, Mexico's midfield situation remains in limbo. There are precious few players who can fill the role of adding defensive strength to the middle of the field. Herrera is one of them, and the Porto midfielder was held back from the previous round of friendlies to heal existing knocks.
Matches against Iceland and Croatia were missed opportunities for Osorio to gauge the midfield pairing of Herrera and Jonathan dos Santos. At some point, the manager will need to look at the former Pachuca star to take the reins in midfield.
An added bonus for Mexico is to have Herrera push forward when needed and create offense as well, becoming a true box-to-box midfielder who can boss the game and pull the strings for El Tri at the World Cup.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.