Big-name absences overshadow players present on Mexico's Gold Cup roster

While stars like Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano are on the list, the names not called by Tata Martino on Tuesday are tough to ignore

Tata Martino sat down and started listing names. 

“Guillermo Ochoa, Jonathan Orozco…”  

The roster the Mexico manager was reading off included 29 players, but six of them will be sheared after June friendly matches leaving the base as his 23-man Gold Cup squad. 

“Carlos Salcedo, Cesar Montes, Hector Moreno…” 

The manger hardly has a flair for the dramatic, but it was starting to get good. 

“Hirving Lozano.” Interesting. “Roberto Alvarado, Orbelin Pinedo and Marco Fabian,” he concluded. 

While Martino sat down to announce the names that actually are on his list, it’s difficult to focus on those when there are so many important names not on it. 

No Carlos Vela. No Jesus Corona. Confirmation that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez wouldn’t be part of the group. We already knew Hector Herrera wouldn’t be there. Lozano remains injured and likely wouldn’t play in the tournament until the latter rounds. 

Vela is on an absolute tear, leading MLS in goals and assists after an impressive World Cup in 2018. Martino said he’d spoken with Vela recently on the phone, and the attacker informed him he needed to focus on his family and club in the near future – though Martino took the answer to mean he didn’t see himself returning to the national team again. 

“I don’t think it’s very common. It’s not something I’ve gone through in Paraguay or in Argentina, but it’s also true that a call to a national team is a type of prize for a player, a recognition of his career and the moment they don’t see it like that it makes more sense that they not come in,” Martino said in Tuesday’s news conference.  

“I’m not here to analyze the decisions the players make. I’m here to call them, and if they decide not to be here, we have to focus on those that are here and with them put together a good national team to compete.” 

A conflict with that Porto team and the medical staff led to him not joining up with the national team in March – a dispute from which his relationship with Martino has not recovered. 

Martino said he hadn’t heard from the player, and while the manager had hinted Corona still was a player he would consider for selection, “Tecatito” now seems to be out of the plans for this summer and beyond. 

The team needs players to step up in the absence of the regulars from the past several years, but Martino would’ve preferred to manage the generational change more gradually. Now, the team is worse because of the off-field idiosyncrasies that so often seem to peg back Mexico coaches. 

“Every country has its quirks. In Mexico, they give you some problems, in Argentina others. Nobody can manage a national team and live without inconveniences. So, you face them, you solve them and you move forward,” Martino said. “What we won’t do will be feeling sorry for ourselves because of established situations. Above all, what we can’t manage are the players’ decisions.” 

Mexico still should be able to get through the group stage without too much difficulty in this tournament where groups are still ‘revealed’ instead of drawn and the tournament is set out to maximize revenue rather than to be the most competitive possible competition. But potential knockout matches with Haiti, Costa Rica and the United States could be demanding for an El Tri team that without a fit Lozano would be playing Roberto Alvarado and perhaps Rodolfo Pizarro on either side of Raul Jimenez or could even lead Martino to move away from the 4-3-3 setup he’d like to play. 

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That wouldn’t be the worst thing. Pizarro doesn’t excel as a true winger but can start there and float inside. While his left foot isn’t up to the level of Vela’s, the Rayados playmaker could be a fine replacement. His club teammate, Carlos Rodriguez, can slot in for Herrera. A red-hot Jimenez eases the pain caused by Chicharito’s absence. 

Martino said the team still can aspire to get to the Gold Cup final and from there look to win the silverware. Once the ball is rolling on the field, that assessment will be a good one. A month from the tournament starting, the jarring sight of a Mexico roster with so many familiar faces missing is hard to get past. 

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