It’s fair to say that there’s cautious optimism right now for Mexico‘s men’s national team. In a new era under manager Diego Cocca, who was hired in February after Mexico’s dismal group stage exit in last year’s World Cup, El Tri have kicked off 2023 with a three-game undefeated run.

Advancing to the 2022-23 Concacaf Nations League knockout round with a win (2-0 vs. Suriname) and a draw (2-2 vs. Jamaica), as well as making things difficult for the U.S. men’s national team in a 1-1 draw during an April friendly, Cocca has done a decent job of laying down a foundation that focused on his pragmatic style of play.

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Even with a constant reshuffling of overarching Mexican Football Federation staff in recent months, which includes Cocca and a new federation president, the senior men’s team hasn’t had any real issues in 2023 with weathering the background storm. Seeking to regain control of the Concacaf region through a measured generational change, it’s been easy to see Mexico’s gradual steps forward with Cocca.

But has that progress been enough to find success in a busy summer?

Beginning with exhibitions on June 7 vs. Guatemala in Mazatlan, Mexico, and June 10 vs. Cameroon in San Diego, El Tri will then take part in a Concacaf Nations League semifinal on June 15 vs. their USMNT rivals at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Following an ensuing final or third place match at the same venue on June 18, Cocca and his roster will later switch gears for their Gold Cup campaign that begins on June 25.

Aiming for at least one piece of silverware this summer, especially with the USMNT holding both the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup trophies, El Tri will soon be heavily judged solely on whether they can claim any titles.

Ahead of what will be a significant summer gut check, this Big Board will lay out the current depth chart for Mexico. With veterans needing to prove themselves and some fresh faces stepping in, the next few months will define who will be part of Cocca’s plans as he prepares for the 2026 World Cup.

How we’re doing this

The analysis will go through six position categories that will each have four tiers. Guided by Cocca’s announced game plan that has split his roster up for the upcoming friendlies and official competitions, the tiers are also influenced by players’ form and a variety of other factors.

Tier 1: Projected starter: Roster locks and players who are clear starters at their positions in Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup matches.

Tier 2: Contributor: Players expected to be on gameday rosters for official matches and contribute on the field, either as a starter or sub.

Tier 3: On the bubble: May not have much of a role this summer or will only gain minutes in friendlies, but are part of Mexico’s overall roster depth.

Tier 4: Out of the picture: Players who have been around the team but aren’t part of Cocca’s immediate plans, which includes those suffering injuries.

Let’s dive into what Cocca could be thinking.

Goalkeeper tiers

Tier 1: Guillermo Ochoa (Salernitana)

Tier 2: Carlos Acevedo (Santos Laguna), Luis Angel Malagon (Club America)

Tier 3: Jose Antonio Rodriguez (Club Tijuana)

Tier 4: Miguel Jimenez (Chivas), Alfredo Talavera (FC Juarez), Rodolfo Cota (Leon), David Ochoa (free agent), Jonathan Orozco (Club Tijuana)

Sure, aging veteran Ochoa is going to turn 38 just days before this year’s Gold Cup final, but there’s no denying the maintained talent and perhaps even improvement of the goalkeeper that was selected as the player of the season for Serie A‘s Salernitana. Acevedo and Malagon could one day surpass Ochoa as the leaders of the next goalkeeping generation, but they’re far from the impact and experience he’s shown.

Behind them, Rodriguez is a veteran that will be in the running as a backup in upcoming friendlies. Elsewhere, Cocca has moved on past players like Jimenez, Talavera, Cota and Orozco. David Ochoa, still only 22, saw his stock go down as a bench player in Liga MX with Atletico San Luis, eventually leading to his release from the team this spring.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Ochoa, Acevedo, Malagon

Full-back tiers

Tier 1: None

Tier 2: Julian Araujo (Barcelona), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk), Jorge Sanchez (Ajax), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey)

Tier 3: Kevin Alvarez (Pachuca), Salvador Reyes (Club America)

Tier 4: Omar Campos (Santos Laguna), Emilio Lara (Club America), Luis Reyes (Atlas), Erick Aguirre (Monterrey)

Mexico’s positions in the fullback spots are completely up in the air. On the right, both Araujo and Sanchez have the right credentials with their involvement in elite European clubs, but have yet to make a true impact for club and country. On the left, Arteaga has been a consistent figure for Belgium side Genk, but might still be a step behind a resurgent veteran like Gallardo.

Alvarez, who is set to move to Club America, lost serious momentum in 2023 with a worrisome run in the Clausura tournament with Pachuca. Campos has a high potential but has since been replaced in the upcoming friendlies, due to injury, by Club America’s Reyes.

Outside of those seven names, others have plenty to prove.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Arteaga, Araujo, Gallardo, Sanchez

Center-back tiers

Tier 1: Cesar Montes (Espanyol), Johan Vasquez (Cremonese)

Tier 2: Israel Reyes (Club America), Victor Guzman (Monterrey)

Tier 3: Nestor Araujo (Club America)

Tier 4: Hector Moreno (Monterrey), Gilberto Sepulveda (Chivas), Jesus Alberto Angulo (Tigres), Jesus Orozco Chiquete (Chivas)

With the old guard of World Cup veterans like Araujo and Moreno being phased out, European-based players like Montes and Vasquez will have a huge opportunity to establish themselves as Mexico’s best central defensive duo this summer. Depending on how things go, up-and-coming names from within Liga MX like Reyes and Guzman could also earn plenty of minutes over the next couple of months.

Barring some last-minute injuries, Sepulveda, Angulo and Chiquete are currently on the outside looking in, but their inclusion in Cocca’s 40-man preliminary Gold Cup roster (and Sepulveda’s inclusion for friendlies) is a sign that he’s still keeping an eye on them.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Vasquez, Montes, Guzman, Reyes

Midfield tiers

Tier 1: Edson Alvarez (Ajax)

Tier 2: Sebastian Cordova (Tigres), Luis Chavez (Pachuca), Erick Sanchez (Pachuca), Carlos Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Luis Romo (Monterrey)

Tier 3: Alan Cervantes (Santos Laguna)

Tier 4: Fernando Beltran (Chivas), Erick Gutierrez (PSV Eindhoven), Aldo Rocha (Atlas), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Hector Herrera (Houston Dynamo), Marcelo Flores (Real Oviedo), Erik Lira (Cruz Azul), Alfonso Gonzalez (Monterrey), Marcel Ruiz (Toluca)

Who will play alongside Alvarez in the XI? In a possible 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 setup, it would be easy to see both Cordova and Chavez thriving in the center of Mexico’s pitch. While Chavez was one of the few bright spots from Mexico in the previous World Cup, Cordova is coming off a brilliant playoff run with Tigres.

Sanchez hasn’t shied away when given chances by El Tri, often exceeding expectations. Although some Mexico fans have lost their patience with “Charly” Rodriguez and Romo, supporters should at least expect to see them as part of Cocca’s depth options on the bench. Elsewhere, an additional changing of the guard can be seen with Guardado’s retirement from international football and Herrera’s ongoing absence in call-ups since the World Cup.

The only real question mark is PSV’s Gutierrez, who despite captaining Mexico in March, was left out of Cocca’s plans for the summer. At time of writing, there’s nothing indicating an injury for the player who might not get any appearances soon.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Alvarez, Cordova, Chavez, Sanchez, Rodriguez, Romo

Winger tiers

Tier 1: None

Tier 2: Orbelin Pineda (AEK Athens), Alexis Vega (Chivas), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul), Jonathan Ozziel Herrera (Atlas)

Tier 3: Roberto Alvarado (Chivas), Diego Lainez (Tigres)

Tier 4: Hirving Lozano (Napoli), Jesus Corona (Sevilla), Efrain Alvarez (LA Galaxy), Jordan Carrillo (Sporting Gijon), Heriberto Jurado (Necaxa)

With injuries and ongoing returns to full fitness for key starters like “Chucky” Lozano and “Tecatito” Corona, usual alternates like Pineda, Vega, Antuna and Herrera will be in the running for starting spots. The argument could be made that Antuna is a Tier 1 player this summer due to Mexico’s injuries, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if Pineda (a recent Greek Super League champion) surpasses him in the depth chart.

Alvarado and Lainez remain in the mix as Liga MX playoff finalists for their club sides, and beyond them, it’s slim pickings. Alvarez, an occasional LA Galaxy starter, was called up for a friendly earlier this year for Mexico but didn’t receive any minutes. Carrillo and Jurado have yet to be utilized by Cocca in his tenure, but have the potential to be important options in the future.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Antuna, Vega, Pineda, Herrera

Striker tiers

Tier 1: Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord)

Tier 2: Henry Martin (Club America)

Tier 3: Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton), Roberto de la Rosa (Pachuca)

Tier 4: Ivan Lopez (Toluca), Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey), Javier Hernandez (LA Galaxy), Eduardo Aguirre (Santos Laguna), Angel Zaldivar (Atletico San Luis)

Up top, it has to be Feyenoord’s Gimenez. The 22-year-old Eredivisie champion has quickly become the standout Mexican player in Europe in 2023 and is rumored to be on the radar of countless major clubs. Martin could possibly make a Tier 1 case for himself as the leading goalscorer in the latest Liga MX season, but a significant drop in form during the playoffs hasn’t helped.

With both set to lead appearances and minutes in the striker role, that leaves only some scraps through minutes in friendlies for Jimenez and De la Rosa. Jimenez, once one of the top strikers in the Premier League, has sadly yet to rediscover his goalscoring rhythm after his life-threatening head injury in late 2020.

Toluca’s Lopez earned his first-ever senior national team call-up earlier this year, but hasn’t secured any minutes. Funes Mori is clearly being phased out, and as for Hernandez, it’s tough to know if Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer will be able to return to El Tri.

Absent from the national team since 2019, Hernandez hinted about a possible return earlier this year after stating that he “received a call” from Cocca. Even so, an uninspired start to his MLS season and injury problems have made things difficult for a possible comeback.

Expected Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup selections: Gimenez, Martin

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Mexico’s Concacaf Nations League, Gold Cup roster prediction