After Javier Hernandez and Raul Jimenez, who is Mexico's option at striker?
When thinking of Mexico's most gifted and capable strikers, two players immediately stand out amongst the rest: Javier Hernandez and Raul Jimenez.
On paper, Hernandez remains the more talented and popular option of the two. As the leading all-time goalscorer for El Tri, the 30-year-old is undoubtedly a key figure with his knack of finding the back of the net.
But Hernandez has yet to find his footing this season for West Ham with one start in four Premier League appearances with no goals. He is also expected to miss his second straight match against Chelsea on Saturday due to a prolonged illness.
Jimenez, on the other hand, is quickly making a name for himself abroad. The former Club America player has two goals in his first five English Premier League games for Wolverhampton. Keeping in mind that he is three years younger than Hernandez, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jimenez as the new leader in Mexico's attack when the 2019 Gold Cup comes around.
So here's the big question: Who is next in line?
The field of leading candidates who can make a case for themselves as the third-best striker currently looks bleak. Oribe Peralta recently retired from international duty, Chivas man Alan Pulido has yet to showcase that he is dependable, and his club teammate Angel Zaldivar was dismal in the two recent friendly appearances for Mexico.
The good news is that there are no lack of young Mexican strikers. Budding players such as Rafael Duran, Joao Maleck, Eduardo Aguirre, Roberto de la Rosa, Jairo Torres, Ronaldo Cisneros, Jose Godinez, Alexis Vega and Jose Juan Macias are some of the more intriguing options available.
The bad news? Many of these players don't have many first division minutes to begin with. For those who are striving to make an impact in Liga MX, regular playing time is highly challenging in the competitive league -- especially for strikers. Even with the youth minutes rule now in effect, most Mexican clubs are able to fulfill their requirements through minutes for homegrown talent in other positions.
Potential late bloomers should also be considered in the search for the next striker as well. More experienced Mexicans such as Henry Martin, Luis Madrigal and Zaldivar will continue to be on the radar if any of the younger options struggle to shine.
At the risk of tactical experimentation, Mexico would be better off with a winger or attacking midfielder like Carlos Vela or Rodolfo Pizarro as a false nine if both Hernandez and Jimenez were unavailable. It might better than an alternative which would rely on a long list of either unproven or unreliable strikers.
That is unfortunate when you consider the depth -- promising youngsters such as wingers Diego Lainez, Roberto Alvarado, left-back Gerardo Arteaga, and goalkeeper Gibran Lajud -- that the national team now has in nearly every other position in the field.
All that said, it's also tough to imagine anybody surpassing either Hernandez or Jimenez at the moment. That's fine for now, but it will continue to become an increasingly troublesome issue as we get closer to the World Cup. By that time, Jimenez will be 31 years old, and if he isn't in good form, it would almost be laughable to assume that Mexico would have to start a 34-year-old Hernandez.
What this then means is that the next manager for Mexico will have a pivotal role in not only selecting the next batch of strikers, but also molding them. Barring an incredible run from both Jimenez and Hernandez through the next several years, the national team will need to start giving more opportunities to players who will still need to fine-tune their game.
So begins the search -- and the race -- for the next Hernandez and Jimenez. In a transitionary period for Mexico's squad, it's more important than ever for another striker to step up on the international stage. If not, Mexico will have to stick with their two seasoned strikers for much longer than anticipated.