Juan Carlos Osorio’s start to life as Mexico coach could hardly have gone any better. Through five games, four World Cup qualifiers and one friendly, his team has recorded five victories and has yet to even concede a goal. Wins home and away against Canada over the past week mean El Tri has already guaranteed its place in the final, Hexagonal, stage of CONCACAF qualifying with two matches still to play.
Mexico couldn’t be set up any better ahead of what promises to be a enthralling summer. With the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying already put to bed ahead of a trip to El Salvador and home meeting with Honduras in September, Osorio and Mexico can focus on the big event of the summer. The Copa America Centenario will not only see the team enjoy plenty of support across the United States, but will provide an opportunity for it to test itself against some of the world’s best sides.
While Mexico has been an invitee to every edition of South America’s championship since 1993, other commitments mean it has generally been used as an opportunity to try out less experienced players. This time, though, should be different.
After taking over last November, Osorio will surely relish the chance to get his top players together for several weeks in order to instill his ideas on the team. And he will be desperate, too, to progress through a group containing Uruguay, Jamaica and Venezuela and set up some truly mouthwatering contests in the knockout stages.
Given the ultimate aim for Mexico is to make it past the Round of 16 at a World Cup for the first time since 1986, there is huge value in the chance for El Tri to prove itself against top nations in a tournament setting.
With he squad now at Mexico’s disposal, there is every reason for confidence heading into such matchups. In contrast to previous generations, Mexico is now benefiting from a large number of players operating at a high level in Europe. From the 11 who started the impressive 3-0 win in Vancouver last Friday, seven have been playing regularly at prominent European clubs this season.
And in addition to the likes of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Hector Herrera and Miguel Layun, there is an exciting crop of young players to provide continued optimism for the future and keep the pressure on the established figures in the squad.
One young player in particular has already shone under Osorio. Jesús “Tecatito” Corona has now scored in his last three appearances for El Tri, including both matches against Canada. And the 23-year-old starlet, currently at Portuguese giants Porto, is not only gaining a reputation for scoring goals, but, as he showed at the Azteca in Mexico’s routine 2-0 win over Canada on Tuesday, scoring brilliant individual goals.
Corona wasn’t the only emerging talent to catch the eye over the past two qualifiers. Having produced an assist shortly coming on for his international debut in a friendly win over Senegal last month, Pachuca’s 20-year-old winger Hirving Lozano starred again on his first start when smashing home a fine goal in Vancouver.
Lozano and Corona are two of the players who could provide selection dilemmas for Osorio this summer. Not only is Mexico preparing for the Copa America in June, but there is the small matter of defending the country’s Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in August. While it is possible that Liga MX players, like Lozano, could play in both tournaments, it is much tougher to imagine European clubs being so willing to lose their prized assets for so long.
Hernández is one of those set to be faced with an either-or decision, as he weighs up whether to compete in the Copa America or to go as one of the three over the age of 23 players allowed in the Olympic squad. Still, whatever the makeup of the two squads this summer, there is plenty of reason for Mexico to be optimistic of its prospects.
Mexico upcoming schedule (confirmed matches only)
May 28: vs. Paraguay (friendly, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA)
June 1: vs. Chile (friendly, Qualcomm Stadium San Diego, CA)
June 5: vs. Uruguay (Copa America Group C, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ)
June 9: vs. Jamaica (Copa America Group C, Rose Bowl Stadium Pasadena, CA)
June 13: vs. Venezuela (Copa America Group C, NRG Stadium, Houston, TX)
August 3-20: Olympic Games (Schedule to be confirmed)
Sept. 2: At El Salvador (World Cup qualifying, location to be confirmed)
Sept. 6: vs. Honduras (World Cup qualifying, location to be confirmed)