The coach is known for trying out new ideas but is beginning his focus on Russia by calling in a familiar squad despite already being qualified
Juan Carlos Osorio, a coach known for improvising, for trying new things, for making tweaks and for experimenting, has named his final roster for World Cup qualification. It seemed these final two games would be a sandbox for the manager with his team’s place in Russia already secure.
Instead, the biggest surprise of the Mexico roster is that there’s no surprise. For Osorio, that’s remarkable. This is a coach who took Candido Ramirez to the Copa America Centenario essentially because the obscure Liga MX midfielder is left-footed and who called Alejandro Mayorga, a defender who may have made his international debut before his professional debut had he not suffered an injury, to the Gold Cup team.
¡Cerremos el Hexagonal Final en lo más alto!
— Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) September 28, 2017
Osorio has declined the opportunity to experiment, though, in favor of getting more time with his best players. This group looks a lot like the one that likely will take on Belgium and Poland in November. It looks a lot like the one that will likely be called to the World Cup. Even players like Hector Moreno and Carlos Salcedo who are coming off injuries and trying to fit in with new clubs were called in by Osorio. There were other players who could’ve filled those roles, but judging from the call-up Osorio is done looking for new faces. He had the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup and now has the group he wants to work with.
It’s unexpected, but it may work out for the best. Osorio can use the time between now and the ball rolling in July to actually educate players on what he wants to do in certain systems that he’s tried out but that haven’t functioned well. It’s a chance for Edson Alvarez or(/and) Diego Reyes to continue learning the right-back position and for Jesus Gallardo to do the same on the left with, Miguel Layun perhaps able to assist the 23-year-old in his development. Even though Mexico looked great using it against Uruguay in the 2015 Copa America Centenario, the team could use polish when moving to a three-man back line as things haven’t been comfortable when doing so in the last several months.
Ultimately, this roster shows that Osorio not only wants to get more time with his best players, he also wants to make sure to win the final two games of World Cup qualification. That would make his team just the second to make it through a Hex without tasting defeat after the team that qualified for the 1998 World Cup did so with four wins and six draws. There’s also a hint that Osorio would love to match and surpass the record number of points in a Hex. No team has surpassed the 23 points Costa Rica accumulated in the 2002 cycle. A Mexican team never has done better than the 22 points Ricardo La Volpe’s sides put together in the 2006 cycle. El Tri could top that mark by winning both games while a win and a draw would see Osorio’s men tie it.
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Think of the satisfaction for Osorio – and the breathing room if friendly games during the World Cup build-up don’t result in big wins – if he’s able to set the Hex record. This is a coach whose every move has been criticized. To be able to point those critics to a record number of points in the final round of World Cup qualification would have to feel sweet.
That taste may elude Osorio, but even so he’s doing everything he can to win these games, get the team’s name in the record books and, far more importantly, have everything perfectly in place when his biggest-ever test arrives in summer 2018.