Mexico's WCup roster takes shape without some familiar faces
Mexico's Javier Aguirre is being too generous with playing time for certain players
At the same time, Pável Pardo and Oswaldo Sánchez deserve more of a chance
Mexico has another friendly this week, against fellow WCup side North Korea
With each passing week, it seems Mexico coach Javier Aguirre has more and more opportunities to examine players for possible World Cup inclusion.
In an eight-day stretch a few weeks back, Mexico played Bolivia and New Zealand as Aguirre observed 29 players between the two games. Next week, El Tri will play host to North Korea in Santos Laguna's new stadium, the grandiose Territorio Santos Modelo in Torreon.
Still, as Aguirre ponders the potential roster, there are some players who are being force-fed national-team time while others sit idly by, unable to do much to help their own cause, and still others who at one point were seemingly World Cup locks who should not be allowed anywhere near South Africa.
Jonathan Dos Santos is a darling of Mexican supporters. Perhaps it's his family pedigree -- brother Giovani, after all, is a bona fide national-team star -- or maybe it's the fact he plays on Barcelona that captivates fans, but on the field "Jona" has done little to warrant a spot on the World Cup roster.
Aguirre included Dos Santos in the roster for Wednesday's game against the North Koreans, trying to give Dos Santos the kind of minutes necessary to prepare for the World Cup that Pep Guardiola cannot at Barcelona. With the Catalan giants, Dos Santos is too raw to reward with valuable playing time, but Aguirre seems content with putting his trust in the 19-year-old.
Come the World Cup, any player who steps on the field must be able to perform. Dos Santos is a great prospect and might be able to carry the team in 2014 or beyond, but to look for a player with virtually no first-team experience and nothing but friendlies under his belt to succeed at the World Cup is perhaps expecting too much.
Meanwhile, Nery Castillo was once a lock to not only make the World Cup roster but also play a key role. Castillo's ability made Mexican supporters drool at the prospect of having him pulling the strings on the attack. But Castillo's club career has fizzled. His playing time with Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk has been virtually nonexistent as Castillo cannot even make the bench for league games.
His lack of first-team action, though, did not keep Aguirre from calling up Castillo for qualifying matches last year, but thus far the coach has avoided Castillo altogether in 2010. He was a notable absence from the European contingent a week ago, and was not in the mix for North Korea.
Not playing regularly has likely led to a loss of match fitness, and Aguirre needs players at their best when the squad comes together in May. Had Castillo's club career gone in a different and more beneficial path, perhaps he would be a cinch to make the team, but Aguirre needs to keep Castillo away.
As for Pável Pardo, he has not received a call that his play merits. Pardo might not be in his prime, but the former Stuttgart standout can still play. He is one of the key figures for a strong America club this season and has helped keep the team together in the wake of the Salvador Cabańas shooting. Pardo's set-piece ability has not diminished, and what team could not benefit from such precision from corner kicks and free kicks? Despite Aguirre's insistence that he will scour the league for talent, Pardo probably has no shot at South Africa, but he would be an asset if he were included.
Another former starter and important player is Santos' Oswaldo Sánchez. The veteran goalkeeper, however, might be one of the most unpopular players in the league. In the span of one game, Sanchez went from unquestionable starter to having a scarlet letter slapped on his chest. His last game with Mexico was on Feb. 11, 2009, and Sanchez made a howler in a 2-0 loss to the United States in a World Cup qualifying match.
Sanchez may be far from his 2006 form, but he would not be in awe of the atmosphere if given an opportunity. Guillermo Ochoa is seemingly the clear-cut No. 1 starter, but Jonathan Orozco and Luis Ernesto Michel have received playing time this year, and Jesús Corona has been a backup to Ochoa under Aguirre. As fine as they are in league, if called upon there could be some deer-in-the-headlights moments on the field.
While the World Cup chances of Pardo and Sanchez might seem hopeless, Aguirre did throw a bone to a player who was also seemingly on the outs. Matías Vuoso last played for Mexico under Sven-Göran Eriksson nearly one year ago but was recalled for Wednesday's match. While that may have as much to do with his club -- Vuoso plays home games at the TSM -- it is still an opportunity for Vuoso to demonstrate his skills.
And that's all Pardo and Sanchez are asking for: an opportunity.