The Mexican national team manager is taking stock of his options abroad and will find positives and negatives, writes Jon Arnold.
Maybe Juan Carlos Osorio should move to Europe.
Days after Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez strutted his stuff and scored twice under the manager’s watchful eye, his international teammate Carlos Vela revved to life and found the net twice in Real Sociedad’s 4-0 win against Levante. Chicharito also was on the mark again.
Vela had been in poor form, and -- according to comments Osorio made to a Colombian media outlet -- was considering not joining the Mexican national team for November’s World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador and Honduras. Not only does it seem Osorio has convinced the 26-year-old to come into the side when he makes his debut as El Tri’s coach, it also seems he provoked something in Vela, who was yet to score after eight La Liga matches before Saturday’s breakthrough. Perhaps the streaky scorer found new focus knowing there’s a new set of eyes watching him and a new man counting on him, though it’s also totally plausible that the sudden spout of goals from Vela -- and Chicharito -- is a coincidence.
What all has Osorio found in his European tour, and what is he going to find? First, he’s found strikers who are suddenly in good form. This will come as a pleasant surprise to the Colombian. In addition to Chicharito and Vela, Osorio watched as Raul Jimenez played 90 minutes in a league match for Benfica, valuable game action for a forward who just two months ago was seeing hardly any playing time.
At the start of this week, Osorio will be in the Netherlands, where he’ll have the chance to spend some time with Hector Moreno and Andres Guardado at PSV. The two veterans are two of the shining lights for El Tri, playing crucial roles at a Champions League outfit.
It’s not all rosy for Osorio, though. He also chatted last week with goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa. The shot stopper starred for Mexico at the World Cup and also held down the No. 1 job for this summer’s Gold Cup triumph despite a total lack of minutes with Malaga. Things finally came to a head with interim manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, who left Ochoa out of his call-up for the CONCACAF Cup. Moises Munoz was the goalkeeper for that 3-2 extra-time triumph over the United States, but Ochoa said the new manager says the door is open for him to return.
Ochoa’s time away suddenly creates a bit of a long-term concern of Osorio. Munoz or Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, who put on a show against Panama in last month’s friendly, are capable fill-ins for qualifying, but Mexico would be better served with Ochoa, who is three years younger than Talavera and five younger than Munoz, as the man in 2018. It seems Osorio likely found that the situation isn’t improving for Memo, and what is normally a strength for El Tri could convert into a weakness.
Overall, though, Osorio has to be pleased to be able to count on so many Mexicans getting regular time for their European clubs. We haven’t even spoken about Porto, where Miguel Layun looks to have the left-back spot locked up and Jesus Corona is a regular, though Hector Herrera has fallen out of favor. Nor have we discussed Jonathan dos Santos’ recent successes at Villarreal.
All in all, no other country in the region can match Osorio’s army of players getting minutes in the UEFA Champions League or fighting for a place in some of the world’s top teams. That will give him confidence that Mexico can get through this round of World CUp qualification without too many issues, and from there look for bigger things. Maybe for Osorio that means a condo by the Playa de la Concha San Sebastian or near the Bayer Tower in Leverkusen. His presence hasn’t hurt so far.