Javier Hernández
Mexico's Javier Hernández competes for the ball with Panama Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo during a 2018 World Cup Qualifier at Rommel Fernandez Stadium, Panama City, Panama, on Nov. 15, 2016. Reuters/Eduardo Grimaldo

It wasn’t the perfect start for Mexico, but four points from its first two games in the Hexagonal, which included a historic win in Columbus, Ohio, offers plenty to build upon heading into 2017. For Juan Carlos Osorio, who survived the calamitous stumble in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, the impressive early campaign provides a mandate going forward.

A 2-1 win against the United States, its first qualifying triumph in the U.S. in 44 years, means that Osorio can go into a four-month break from competitive action without talk still being dominated by the infamous 7-0 humbling at the hands of Chile.

The skeptics aren’t completely won over. Mexico didn’t exactly impress in a drab goalless draw in Panama on Tuesday, in which the host had the better of the chances. Yet four points from two away matches, two of the toughest games Mexico will face in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, should count as a job well done.

In Panama City, after all, Mexico was without Andres Guardado, Carlos Vela and Carlos Salcedo, while Hector Herrera began on the bench. And it was played on a surface and in an atmosphere that provided its own tests.

As the U.S. has discovered in recent days and as Mexico found out to a painful degree in 2013, Concacaf qualifying is no longer the breeze it once was for the region’s dominant powers. Panama, in particular, is a fast-improving force.

Costa Rica showed in a 4-0 destruction of the U.S. on Tuesday that it, too, can be a real challenge to regional superiority. However, Mexico will be confident of getting a win when Los Ticos visit the Azteca when qualifying resumes on March 23.

A 2-1 loss to Costa Rica in 2001, its first-ever qualifying defeat at the famed Estadio Azteca, still looms large in the annals of Mexican soccer. But Mexico has just lost one more competitive game on home soil since then.

Four of Mexico’s next five World Cup qualifiers will be at home, giving the side the opportunity to put itself on the verge of a place in Russia before tricky trips to Costa Rica and Honduras in September and October next year.

Mexico’s one away fixture in that upcoming run comes against Trinidad and Tobago in the second game of the March double-header. And that looks to be the kindest of away trips in the Hexagonal, with the Caribbean side having been well beaten in its first two matches by Costa Rica and Honduras.

Before all that, though, comes a friendly with Iceland in February. The match, as was the case with a friendly against Senegal at the same stage of this year, will be used to get together those players from Liga MX and possibly Major League Soccer. As the fixture falls outside of FIFA’s international window, European clubs will not be compelled to release their players.

Mexico 2017 Schedule (confirmed matches only)
Feb. 8: vs. Iceland (Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas)
March 24: vs. Costa Rica (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
March 28: at Trinidad and Tobago (Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain)
June 7: vs. Honduras (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
June 11: vs. USA (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Sept. 1: vs. Panama (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Sept. 5: at Costa Rica (Estadio Nacional, San José)
Oct. 6: vs. Trinidad and Tobago (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)
Oct. 10: at Honduras