Mexico's central midfield conundrum needs a solution before Russia 2018.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio admitted in January 2016 that he was interested in calling up Argentine Guido Pizarro to El Tri, which tells a story.
It speaks of Osorio's struggle to find the type of holding midfielder he is looking for with the Mexican national team. And that struggle continues.
Osorio's requisites for the deeper-lying central midfielder in a 4-3-3 mean he'd find it difficult to hit upon the ideal player among the depth pool of many national teams.
The former Atletico Nacional coach appears to want a player who can shield the center-backs, not just from balls coming along the ground, but from longer, aerial balls into the striker or strikers. Then the midfielder must be able to be the brains constructing plays out from the back, while adhering to a variation of positional play used by the likes of Pep Guardiola.
On top of both of those factors, the player also has a crucial role in breaking up opposition counter-attacks, which Mexico are especially susceptible to due to their risky strategy of almost always taking the game to the opposition and piling players forward.
When you watched Pizarro for Tigres or now with Sevilla in La Liga or even with the Argentine national team, it becomes clear why Osorio would've been desperate for such a balanced midfielder to suit up for Mexico. Unfortunately, however, Pizarro didn't fulfill FIFA's residency rules to play for El Tri.
Rafa Marquez appeared to offer a kind of temporary solution, even if his reduced mobility with age meant the 38-year-old wasn't as dynamic as Osorio would've liked. But the veteran's off-field problems -- with alleged links to a drug trafficking organization -- mean it is increasingly unlikely he'll see playing time at Russia 2018.
Osorio settled for Hector Herrera in the position for the majority of the Confederations Cup and the Porto player was very good at dictating play. But defensively Herrera isn't going to be the assured and solid presence that is required, as we saw against Germany in the Confederations Cup semifinal.
Against Costa Rica last month, it was Diego Reyes who stepped into the position, while Herrera and Andres Guardado shared central midfield duties in Osorio's 3-4-3 formation against Panama at Estadio Azteca. Reyes wasn't good on the ball, while playing with only two central midfielders is unlikely to be Osorio's norm at the World Cup.
Going back a little further, Tigres' Jesus Duenas was given the role in the 2016 Copa America quarterfinal against Chile and that turned out badly, with Mexico losing 7-0 and Duenas hauled off at half-time.
For World Cup qualifiers over the next week against Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, it looks like Osorio will be using Herrera or Reyes once again, with Jonathan dos Santos clearly considered for a more advanced role.
There are, however, some possible options both inside and outside this current squad:
Edson Alvarez (Club America)
Now an established member of the Mexico squad and arguably El Tri's biggest Liga MX-based talent at present, Alvarez has made the transition from youth team player at Club America to full international with consummate ease, playing at center-back, right-back and in central midfield in Liga MX.
The 19-year-old has to be worth a gamble in the holding role and is the number one candidate based on Osorio's specific requisites. Alvarez is good on the ball, doesn't complicate things playing out and is naturally a defender, meaning he should have the discipline required for the holding role.
Osorio has worked hard on drilling him into what is required at right-back, but Alvarez tops the list of players that could plug the gap in Mexico's midfield, even if it would be a risk given his inexperience.
Jesus Molina (Monterrey)
The 29-year-old fits the bill in terms of position, size and experience. Molina has even played in seven of the 23 competitive games in the Osorio era, producing some good performances.
But Osorio doesn't seem completely convinced and Molina is currently being kept out of Monterrey's starting XI by U.S. youth international Jonathan Gonzalez.
Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez (Chivas)
One of Mexico's stars at the last World Cup, Vazquez has three Liga MX titles to his name and his omission can be explained almost entirely by the type of player he is. The 29-year-old is small, buzzes around the midfield and takes risks.
That's clearly not what Osorio wants from the position, although the Colombian did call Vazquez into his first Mexico squad.
Javier Guemez (Queretaro)
The former Tijuana and America midfielder has had a difficult last couple of years with injury, but does offer a slightly different option and is getting his career back on track at Queretaro. Guemez is a combative, hard midfielder, who may not be the tallest but flies into tackles and relishes the physical side of the game in a style not too dissimilar from former Italian international Gennaro Gattuso.
Guemez must be in with an outside shot of a call-up ahead of the World Cup.
Omar Govea (Mouscron)
The 21-year-old has adapted well to the Belgian first division this season, while playing for a side that is currently third. However, Govea has only played nine first division games in his career and while Osorio will have his eye on him, Russia 2018 may come a bit too early.
The other options
Cruz Azul's Rafael Baca is in form and has impressed of late, although it's difficult to believe his characteristics would be to Osorio's taste. Then there is Antonio Rios at Toluca, Javier Salas at Atlas and Mario Osuna at Morelia, but if the manager didn't even consider them for the Gold Cup "B" squad, he's unlikely to do so with just nine months to go before the World Cup.