A bit of controversy is nothing new for Mexico squad announcements. And so it was perhaps unsurprising that the revelation of the 23 players who will compete in the Copa America Centenario this summer was accompanied by a tidbit that provided easy fodder for headline writers.
This time it concerned Giovani dos Santos, who coach Juan Carlos Osorio revealed had rejected a call-up to the squad. In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of Carlos Vela who went on a self-imposed exile of more than three years, missing the 2014 World Cup in the process. Despite being widely regarded as among the most talented Mexican player of his generation, Vela will join Dos Santos in not pulling on an El Tri jersey at the Copa America, in this instance down to the choice of Osorio.
Having missed the squad for Mexico’s World Cup qualifiers against Canada last month, after a request from his club, Real Sociedad, and scoring just five goals in La Liga this season, Vela’s odd relationship with his national team goes on. Dos Santos has been in better form at the start of the Major League Soccer season with LA Galaxy, but has yet to feature under Osorio.
Having also left out Dos Santos’ brother, Jonathan, Osorio continues to send a message that name recognition won’t be enough to ensure continued call-ups.
And, while in previous years the absence of such big names may have bred panic among El Tri fans, the strength in depth and emergence of quality young talent means the likes of Vela and Dos Santos are now dispensable.
The spine of the side comes fresh from successful seasons at a high level in Europe. Andrés Guardado and Héctor Moreno won the Dutch title with PSV Eindhoven, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has scored 26 goals with Bayer Leverkusen and then there is Héctor Herrera and Jesús “Tecatio” Corona at Porto and Diego Reyes at Real Sociedad. Even goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has been getting some long-awaited playing time at Malaga.
With one eye on the defense of the Olympic Gold medal later in the summer, Mexico’s squad is more experienced than it might otherwise have been. Still, Corona, Tigres winger Jürgen Damm and Pachuca’s exciting 20-year-old Hirving “Chucky” Lozano add some plenty of youthful vigor.
Certainly Osorio deserves the benefit of the doubt for his decisions after making a perfect start to his reign. Since replacing interim boss Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, Colombian Osorio has led Mexico to four victories in its four World Cup qualifiers to already seal a place in the Concacaf final-round Hexagonal. He also won a friendly in between against Senegal, all without yet conceding a single goal.
Osorio, a well-traveled coach who was most recently with Sao Paulo in Brazil, will now aim to keep that momentum going in two challenging friendlies ahead of the start of a Copa America tournament that brings together North and South of the continent for the first time. The preparation starts in earnest in just over a week’s time, with a match against Paraguay at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on May 28. The following Thursday, the caliber of opposition increases yet further when taking on defending champions Chile in San Diego.
Mexico, though, should fancy its chances of going far when the tournament begins. El Tri was drawn into Group C, and while it will take on Luis Suarez’s Uruguay in its opening game, matches against Jamaica and Venezuela follow where Osorio will surely be aiming to take maximum points.
Mexico upcoming schedule (all times EDT)
Friendly: vs. Paraguay (May 28, 5 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
Friendly: vs. Chile (June 2, midnight, Qualcomm Stadium, , San Diego)
Copa America Group C: vs. Uruguay (June 5, 8 p.m., University of Phoenix Stadium , Glendale, Arizona)
Copa America Group C: vs. Jamaica (June 9, 10 p.m., Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California)
Copa America Group C: vs. Venezuela (June 13, 8 p.m., NRG Stadium, Houston)
Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Malaga), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Paúl Aguilar (Club América), Néstor Araujo (Santos Laguna), Yasser Corona (Queretaro), Miguel Layun (Porto), Rafa Márquez (Atlas), Jesus Molina (Santos Laguna), Hector Moreno (PSV Eindhoven), Diego Reyes (Real Sociedad), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres)
Midfielders: Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesús Manuel Corona (Porto), Jürgen Damm (Tigres), Jesus Duenas (Tigres), Andrés Guardado (PSV), Hector Herrera (Porto), Hirving Lozano (Pachuca), Carlos Peña (Chivas)
Forwards: Javier Hernández (Bayer Leverkusen), Raul Jiménez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (Club América)