MEXICO CITY -- "The 10/8 rule is a decision that goes against Mexican soccer," Juan Carlos Osorio told ESPN in May 2016. "Whenever there are more opportunities for foreign players, there will be less for Mexicans."
The manager of the Mexico national team knows that he, or whoever comes after him, cannot do the job properly if players are not developing within Liga MX. In the two-plus years of his reign as El Tri boss, Osorio himself has produced a mixed bag of results with a supposed golden generation of players at his disposal. A straightforward, and at times, surprisingly easy, march to Russia 2018 has been overshadowed by underwhelming showings at the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, the latter being played with Osorio watching from afar due to suspension and with a roster no one would dare call Mexico's best.
This Friday, a Mexico win against Panama will secure El Tri's spot in next summer's World Cup. To do so, Osorio will likely call on his stalwarts to do the job. Four days later, his team will visit Costa Rica in a game that could very well be a formality by kickoff. Given Osorio's love of rotating his squad, it would make little sense if opportunities weren't given to up-and-coming players searching for a chance to make an impression.
Even with the 9/9 rule (having evolved from last year's 10/8) expanding chances for non-Mexico players in Liga MX, Osorio's fears have yet to be realized: the Apertura 2017 has seen its share of youngsters cry out for chances with the national team. Take Pachuca's Victor Guzman, for example. Though the former Chivas youth product is sidelined for the next Liga MX game because of a red card, Guzman has been white-hot, scoring four goals in his past three games and seamlessly stepping into Hirving Lozano's role at the club. Though the sample is particularly small, it speaks to the club's development methods.
In recent years, los Tuzos have been a development machine, exporting the likes of Lozano, Jürgen Damm and Rodolfo Pizarro for big transfer fees. Guzman looks to be the next player on that list. At 22, he offers an interesting combo for Osorio as he can play as a wing-back in defense or virtually anywhere in the midfield. Other youngsters seemingly making their case this season have ranged from Guzman's teammate at Pachuca, Erick Aguirre, to Queretaro's Javier Guemez, a versatile defensive midfielder cast off from former club America but finding his feet as an anchor for Los Gallos this season.
The best-case scenario is that Guzman and Guemez would help solve lingering problems for Osorio when it comes to player selection. Deployed as a wing-back, Guzman offers speed, the ability to create attacks and also kill off opposing advances when needed. However, he's also 5-foot-7, a problem for the national team manager who prefers taller players in that position.
Guemez, on the other hand, would need to further his attacking development before he can be seriously considered. At this point in his career, the 25-year-old is a savvy destroyer with the ability to go forward, though often times he lacks the finesse to do so. In his limited experience with Osorio, the Culiacan-born midfielder has also not sufficiently impressed to warrant return calls.
In Aguascalientes, Necaxa has gotten off to a surprising start, bolstered by many young Mexico-born players in superior form. Midfielder Jesus Isijara, 27, has two goals in the first six games of the season and was called up once already by Osorio for a friendly match in which he was eventually an unused substitute. Teammate Dieter Villalpando has finally found consistency following his fifth transfer since 2014, but the 26-year-old has proved to be an apt field general for Los Rayos, providing sparks both in the league and the Copa MX, where he's scored a goal and pulled the strings for the team's offense on more than one occasion.
Finally, Osorio might be prompted to look at other goalkeepers given Alfredo Talavera's injury and Guillermo Ochoa's early struggles in the Belgian league this season. In Monterrey, Hugo Gonzalez fended off Argentine import Juan Pablo Carrizo for Los Rayados' starting spot; his team is currently top of the league. After a shaky start, Tijuana's Manuel Gibran Lajud has fortified his position in goal for Los Xolos, and at 23 remains a top prospect for Mexico's future goalkeeping needs. The former Cruz Azul man has seen action for Mexico's U-23 squad and his large, stocky frame fills the physical requirements for Osorio's coaching staff.
Though the Mexico national team coach opted for experience to finish the job at hand this time around, hopefully quieting voices of dissent he should be replaced after a tough summer, Osorio will have two more games after the current round to experiment and look at new faces. The last time Mexico had that luxury was back in 2005, when then-coach Ricardo La Volpe trotted out future El Tri stars like Jose de Jesús Corona, Ochoa and Francisco "Kikin" Fonseca to get them experience for the years to come.
Less than 12 months before the World Cup in Russia, Osorio could very well do the same as well as give himself an edge going into the biggest tournament of his life.