Mexico's summer can poignantly be described as a mixed bag: the men's senior team lost two crushing CONCACAF finals to their rivals, the United States, while the Olympic squad brought back a bronze medal from Tokyo, the second podium finish for El Tri in the last three editions of the tournament.
Now the focus shifts to 2022 World Cup qualifying, where Mexico and their manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino can expect a bigger challenge than years past from up-and-comers such as Canada and Jamaica (El Tri's first opponent on Sept. 2), and known commodities such as the United States and Costa Rica (the latter its second opponent on Sept. 5).
In response to the Olympic squad's success, Martino has included a number of players from that team in his 28-man roster, opting to surround the core that found success in Tokyo with some established commodities from the Nations League and Gold Cup groups. Excluding the goalkeepers, only six of those named are 30 years or older, while eleven are aged 24 or younger.
(Editor's note: players are listed below with name/club; U.S. caps/goals)
Roberto Alvarado (Cruz Azul; 21/3), Uriel Antuna (Chivas; 21/8), Jesus Corona (FC Porto/POR; 56/9), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey; 7/4), Raul Jimenez (Wolves/ENG; 86/27), Henry Martin (Club America; 13/3), Rodolfo Pizarro (Inter Miami CF/USA; 34/5), Alexis Vega (Chivas; 8/1)
Normally, the biggest news for Mexico from this list would be the reappearance of Raul Jimenez, less than a year removed from a career-threatening head injury sustained while on club duty with Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, Mexico fans will likely have to wait longer to see the former Benfica man suit up for the national team, due to the Britain's travel ban relating to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona will suit up having failed to complete a long-rumored move to AC Milan.
Within the confines of Martino's preferred 4-3-3 system, a front line featuring Corona, Jimenez, and Napoli's Hirving Lozano -- the latter who remained with club Napoli -- three of Mexico's most accomplished attacking players, is to be expected. Without two of them, we can expect Rogelio Funes Mori to play Jimenez's role, while Uriel Antuna or Alexis Vega might be called upon to replace Lozano. Both have proven to play a notch above their usual club level with El Tri, and Vega's impressive performances in Tokyo prompted calls for a European move.
Beyond the aforementioned understudies, Mexico's choices up front are severely limited. Like Lozano, Real Betis winger Diego Lainez remained in Europe, while the LA Galaxy duo of Efrain Alvarez and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez were not considered.
Though Chicharito is recovering from an injury (and hasn't been called to the national team in nearly two years), the decision to not select Alvarez seems puzzling considering the depth of options. Jose Juan Macias, who recently completed a move to LaLiga outfit Getafe, was also deemed surplus to Martino's requirements.
Edson Alvarez (Ajax/NED; 46/2), Sebastian Cordova (Club America; 7/2), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy/USA; 58/5), Andres Guardado (Real Betis/ESP; 166/28), Orbelin Pineda (Cruz Azul; 37/5), Carlos Rodriguez (Monterrey; 20/0), Luis Romo (Cruz Azul; 10/0)
Even without Atletico Madrid's Hector Herrera, this group is easily the deepest and most talented within Martino's roster. The eternal Andres Guardado (who turns 36 in September) continues to play at a high level in one of the world's top leagues, while Edson Alvarez has blossomed into a leader who can both stop opposing attacks in the middle of the pitch and organize them for his club without skipping a beat. Those two can be defined as the "heartbeat" for this team.
Sebastian Cordova continues to impress for club and country (as shown during his run in Tokyo) and is likely a midfielder in name only on this list, as he's shown he can play off the wing and support in attack when needed. Luis Romo and Orbelin Pineda possess a natural chemistry as teammates at Cruz Azul that proves tantalizing for Martino at the international level. Jonathan dos Santos, like Guardado, is an all-terrain player who can boss the midfield with exceptional passing and defensive skills alike.
Considering Herrera's omission, it might have been good to see other players with similar characteristics get the call, but there's no denying Erick Gutierrez is out of form after largely being a substitute for PSV, or that Omar Govea, playing in Belgium with Zulte Waregem these days, is not highly rated by the coaching staff.
Nestor Araujo (Celta/ESP; 49/3), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey; 60/0), Cesar Montes (Monterrey; 14/1), Jose Ramirez (Leon; 0/0), Luis Rodriguez (Tigres; 33/2), Osvaldo Rodriguez (Leon; 5/0), Jorge Sanchez (Club America; 15/0), Gilberto Sepulveda (Chivas; 5/0), Johan Vasquez (Genoa/ITA; 2/0)
The days in which Mexico fans cringed at the thought of who'd pair in central defense for any big match appear to be over for the time being. In the foreseeable future, we can expect Celta Vigo's Nestor Araujo to suit up alongside Genoa's Johan Vasquez, although the ex-Pumas man remained in Italy for this break due to the travel ban.
In Vasquez's absence, expect Cesar Montes to step in, high off an Olympic campaign in which he started every game for El Tri. Behind Araujo, Guadalajara's Gilberto Sepulveda has proven to be a player who has earned Martino's trust in a handful of appearances since 2020.
The full-backs, however, will test whatever sense of renewed calm Mexico fans might have about their central defenders. Luis Rodriguez has been a mixed bag on the right side, capable of producing memorable outings on the wing, or conversely, gaffes not befitting of a pro player, much less a national team-caliber guy.
Should Martino decide to go with a more in-form player, Jorge Sanchez has shown renewed confidence and skill stemming from his run at the Olympics and through the recent MLS vs. Liga MX All-Star Game. On the left side, Jesus Gallardo is not deserving of the same criticism Rodriguez receives on the right, but the Monterrey fullback has underperformed of late. Though listed as a left back, Leon's Jose Ramirez is more likely to see action as a winger than a full-fledged defender.
Though no one should be surprised to see "Memo" Ochoa line up as Mexico's first-choice goalkeeper, Alfredo Talavera returns as a solid backup following his summer at the Gold Cup. It is somewhat surprising to see Martino call in four goalkeepers even on an expanded list and not see Santos Laguna's Carlos Acevedo among them.
Acevedo has rightly received heaps of praise from fans and analysts after bursting onto the scene in 2020. The 25-year-old has been so good, he essentially pushed Jonathan Orozco -- who is on the list -- to Tijuana on a transfer deal. We shouldn't expect to see Talavera, Orozco or Rodolfo Cota at all barring injury or rotation, but either choice is more than capable to do the job against either team in this first round of qualifiers.