Five players who can determine Mexico's Confederations Cup fate
Mexico's long-awaited Confederations Cup journey begins on Sunday.
Left without the usual comfort of a home-field advantage, El Tri will have a massive opportunity to prove that it is more than just a big fish in a CONCACAF-sized pond. As for manager Juan Carlos Osorio, the competition might be able to provide a remedy for the lingering woes of the infamous 7-0 loss to Chile at last summer's Copa America.
Can Mexico find a way to thrive in this year's tournament in Russia? That might all depend on a handful of influential figures. With Mexico set to open its tournament against Portugal, let's take a look at five key players for El Tri in the Confederations Cup.
Miguel Layun | Defender | 28 | Porto
Whether he's given minutes as a defender, a midfielder -- or even a winger -- there's no doubting the significance of Layun for Mexico. The 28-year-old, who provides an aggressive presence in the back line, is also capable of accurate crosses and passes. His pace going forward can't be ignored, and opposing teams must also be careful with his surprisingly powerful shots from distance.
If Mexico is looking for a late goal or opportunity in the attack, the squad will likely need to rely on some distribution from the high-pressing and quick defender. In fact, it wouldn't be unexpected if Layun finished the tournament with more assists than any other Mexican.
Will Layun be given a regular starting role by the ever-tinkering Osorio? Thanks to his versatility and work rate, it would be a slight shock to see the Porto player left on the bench. And because of his questionable status with the Portuguese club, Layun should be inspired to attract other suitors with a strong showing this summer.
Carlos Vela | Forward | 28 | Real Sociedad
At his best, Vela is the most creative and explosive player in Mexico's roster. When he's in the mood, the winger is able to perform world-class dribbling, finishing and ball control.
After problems with consistency in the past, will we see that same player who was once in the same conversation as Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa?
Recently, we've witnessed a mature and dedicated Vela. Gone are the days of his off-the-field distractions and ambivalence toward matches. If last week's World Cup qualifiers are any indicators, the talented 28-year-old has now finally become a committed and determined team player.
After the news that Jesus "Tecatito" Corona will be unavailable for the Confederations Cup, Vela's newfound momentum couldn't have arrived at a better moment. Similar to Layun, Mexico might need to rely on the in-form winger for a late game-winning opportunity.
Andres Guardado | Midfielder | 30 | PSV Eindhoven
Mexico's well-rounded veteran is set to start in the heart of the XI. Depending on Osorio's preference, Guardado, 30, will likely be given a key role in the center of midfield, in either an attacking or a holding role. Regardless of which duties he is given, he is an irreplaceable member of the roster.
Were it not for Guardado, who dragged El Tri through a controversial 2015 Gold Cup, Mexico wouldn't have a spot in the Confederations Cup.
Guardado is brilliant with his distribution, clever with his movement on the ball and a well-respected leader on the team. If Rafael Marquez isn't available, there's no question that the PSV Eindhoven player will be given the captain's armband.
It doesn't matter if El Tri is losing 5-0 or cruising to an easy win, Guardado will always cover an impressive amount of space with his tireless energy. Although he might finish without a goal, odds are that he will be a vital figure in the creation of numerous chances going forward.
Hector Moreno | Defender | 29 | Roma
Moreno is a reliable rock in Mexico's defense. The 29-year-old, who joined Roma from PSV last week on a four-year contract, is the most dependable and competent name in El Tri's backline.
Moreno is strong, excellent in the air and capable of being a threat from set pieces. The defender is also first-rate with his delivery, and will undoubtedly accumulate more passes than any other member of Mexico's defense.
Hindered by injury problems at times in the past, this summer's tournament will provide Moreno with an opportunity to showcase his underrated talents. Although Roma has taken notice of the defender, it has been surprising not to see the Mexican given a chance with an elite club before his move to Italy.
El Tri fans should feel confident with Moreno taking charge of Mexico's defense, as long as he can remain healthy.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez | Forward | 29 | Bayer Leverkusen
No list of Mexico players would be complete without "Chicharito." The striker is the symbol and soul of the national team. Even if he isn't scoring goals, it's easy to sense a positive attitude from not only fans, but also the squad when Hernandez is on the pitch for Mexico.
Hernandez is much more than just a poacher with incredible positioning. In the past few years, the Bayer Leverkusen player has improved his dribbling and passing. Granted, a poor pass from the 29-year-old led to a goal from the U.S. in last week's World Cup qualifier, but the striker was later able to redeem himself with an assist on Vela's equalizer in the 1-1 draw.
Ahead of the tournament in Russia, Hernandez's status with Leverkusen is also worth noting. After a disappointing season that has left the club without a place in the Champions League or the Europa League, Hernandez is well aware of what an outstanding performance in the Confederations Cup could mean. If he is hoping to make a move to a bigger club this summer, he should be motivated to regularly find the back of the net for Mexico.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.