There are two ways of looking at Mexico’s current run in the Gold Cup.
First, there is the short-term perspective. Regardless of the fact that manager Juan Carlos Osorio is suspended for the tournament, or that he is currently working with a backup roster, many demand immediate success and dominant performances for the national team.
Even after earning a spot at first place in Group C, many fans and members of the media began to question El Tri’s rocky path to the knockout round. Which, in theory, is fair when you consider some of the competition. Outside of a clash against the United States or Costa Rica, Mexico is expected to overwhelm and breeze past most other CONCACAF rivals.
Looking ahead, that means that a spot in the Gold Cup final will be the minimum goal for the national team this month.
However, there’s also the long-term perspective to consider. For better or worse, it’s clear that Osorio is utilizing this tournament to test out fringe options. With a break being given to various starters after the Confederations Cup, this might be the manager’s last time to work with a number of players who aren’t at the top of the depth chart.
With less than a year to go until the 2018 World Cup, this year’s CONCACAF competition could be seen as a final camp for backup names such as Hugo Ayala, Jesus Gallardo, Raul Lopez and countless others on the current roster.
Whether he wins the Gold Cup, or gets knocked out in the quarterfinals, might not matter much to Osorio. What might matter most to him is giving an opportunity to overlooked players.
That said, the man isn’t a fool and has already had a chance to test out nearly his entire squad during the group stage. As much as the 56-year-old loves to tinker, he is also well aware of the massive benefits of toning down his rotations and making improvements in the knockout round.
Even though it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him make a couple of eyebrow-raising moves, Osorio should feel motivated to go with a strong and dependable lineup against Honduras on Thursday.
Key to success for Mexico — Utilizing Jesus Gallardo and Raul Lopez
At the risk of sounding redundant, Osorio must focus on El Tri’s attack. Although names such as Elias Hernandez or Orbelin Pineda come to mind when thinking of the frontline, that also means bringing in high-pressing defenders.
At left-back, Jesus Gallardo is the perfect option that can produce plenty of pace through his daring runs. Despite the fact that he still needs to work on his defensive responsibilities, that might not be much of a hindrance against a Honduran side that has yet to score in the tournament.
At right-back, Raul Lopez is set to create dangerous and accurate crosses from the wings for El Tri. Against Curacao, the Pachuca player was one of Mexico’s best in the 2-0 win over the Caribbean side.
With Lopez and Gallardo pushing high up, El Tri’s 4-3-3 formation in the attack would look more like a 3-4-3. Keeping in mind that a draw would go straight to penalties — not extra time — it would be practical for Osorio to throw plenty of numbers forward.
Mexico player to watch — Elias Hernandez
He’s no Carlos Vela or Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, but one can’t help but think of those players when Hernandez has the ball at his feet. The 29-year-old doesn’t have the talents of the aforementioned stars, but shares the same kind of risk-taking attitude that helps him stand out.
After being left out of the starting XI in the previous match against Curacao, Hernandez is now set to be an explosive and adventurous source for attacking movement on the right wing.
Predicted score — Mexico 3-0 Honduras
It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if this turns out to be El Tri’s most convincing performance in the tournament. This Thursday, there’s plenty of reason for Osorio to field a very strong starting XI. Also, it’s fair to point out that Honduras was lucky to make it into the current stage.
Predicted starting XI for Mexico
There are a few changes that could be made, especially in the defense, but I think that certain names such as Jose de Jesus Corona, Jesus Molina, Lopez, Hernandez and Pineda nearly have a place guaranteed in the starting XI.