Young Mexico team enters era that could be both productive, painful
The naming of the new manager will give a clearer pointer to Mexico's direction over coming years, but interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's squad for two upcoming friendlies does very much feel like the first step in what could well be an awkward, painful yet also promising renovation ahead of Qatar 2022.
We're still in that period of fierce debate about El Tri of the first games of the post-Juan Carlos Osorio era (Uruguay on Sept. 7 and the United States on Sept. 11) -- while the failure to break into the quarterfinals yet again has led to a period of introspection about the future of the Mexican national team, younger players and Liga MX.
The decision-making process was perhaps easier for Ferretti this time around in terms of leaving out foreign-based players and being able to name a squad that very much is the next generation -- the average age of the squad is just 24.
Mexico played very well against Germany in Russia, quite well against South Korea, awfully against Sweden and then ran out of steam against a very good Brazil team.
The likes of Javier Hernandez, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado, Carlos Vela and Miguel Layun were all part of a World Cup camp that stretched to well over 40 days and won't be traveling. Despite disgruntled howls from some analysts, those players deserve a break and it's in the national team's interest that they aren't burned out by next summer's Gold Cup.
But the convenient excuse does conceal the fact the team has a lot of key players that will be coming towards the end of their careers in four years and a generational change will be required at some point between now and Qatar. How quickly it should happen and whether it should be gradual or wholesale will depend on who the new coach is and how the youngsters develop in their club careers.
Right now clearly isn't the time to ditch the established names en masse. The Europe-based players are naturally a considerable distance ahead of the youngsters coming up in Liga MX. That said, these games are an opportunity that Mexico's younger players probably didn't expect this early in their career and there are some promising talents.
Club America's 18-year-old forward Diego Lainez heads the list along with his club teammate Edson Alvarez (20), Cruz Azul's 19-year-old Roberto Alvarado and Monterrey's 19-year-old Jonathan Gonzalez. All four look like the real deal and key components moving forward.
Behind them are established Liga MX youngsters such as Pachuca trio Erick Aguirre, Victor Guzman and Erick Gutierrez (who agreed terms with PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday); Santos Laguna full-backs Jesus Angulo, Jose Abella and Gerardo Arteaga; Monterrey's Rodolfo Pizarro; Chivas' Angel Zaldivar and Orbelin Pineda; Pumas' Jesus Gallardo and, the most developed of all, PSV Eindhoven's Hirving Lozano.
In the goalkeeping position, there's been a rejuvenation. Club Tijuana's Gibran Lajud and Necaxa's Hugo Gonzalez accompany 33-year-old Guillermo Ochoa, who is the only member of the squad over the age of 30 and looks like being the captain.
There may well be some talk about why players like Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, Omar Govea, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm and others aren't included. And the debate over injured Giovani dos Santos and Vela's future inclusion can wait.
For now, Ferretti's squad represents a snapshot of what is to come for Mexico. Potential full-time managers looking in will be particularly interested to see how the players match up against a strong Uruguay squad.
A starting XI of Ochoa, Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez, Alvarez, Salcedo, Gallardo, Gonzalez, Gutierrez, Lainez, Alvarado, Lozano and Raul Jimenez would be risky at this point in time, but exciting in terms of what it could become.
The eternal problem, however, is that Mexico's consistency in not reaching the quarterfinals of a World Cup almost seems to sharpen the focus on what comes next, more so than in other nations. The unknown of how high the ceilings of these up-and-coming Mexican players really are offers the exciting possibility of surpassing what the last group achieved and reaching that illusive "fifth game."
But no one should be in any doubt that the bar for this group of young players has been set high. The 2018 World Cup generation found its way out of Mexico to Europe in record numbers. The big question is whether the next generation can do more.
These two upcoming games won't offer firm conclusions either way, but they will be fascinating first glimpses as to how this younger group of players is set for the challenge.