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World Cup: Mexico faces roster issue ahead of friendly with Wales

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Juan Carlos Osorio, coach of Mexico’s World Cup squad, fields questions during Mexico Media Day in Beverly Hills on May 25.
( Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

Juan Carlos Osorio has a week to finalize Mexico’s 23-man roster for next month’s World Cup. And though much of the heavy lifting has already been done, the detail work that takes place over the next few days could ultimately determine how long El Tri’s run in Russia will last.

Orosio’s roster is four over the World Cup limit of 23, and Mexico goes into Monday’s friendly with Wales at the Rose Bowl carrying four players with injury concerns: midfielder Andres Guardado, defender Diego Reyes and the Galaxy brother duo of Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos.

So unless one or more of those four players can prove their worth by the end of Saturday’s final send-off game with Scotland in Mexico City, Osorio’s roster is set. But they want to make the team’s roster decisions as difficult as possible.

“We are hoping to be able to secure our ticket to Russia,” Jonathan dos Santos said in Spanish after playing 90 minutes for the Galaxy last Friday, just the second game in which the brothers played together since March 11. “We have been dreaming about this for a very long time. We are 20 days from the World Cup and I think that we will both be 100%.”

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Jonathan, 28, who has been battling hamstring and calf issues, was among the final roster cuts in 2010, then missed the last World Cup with an injury to his right knee. His older brother, hobbled by hamstring problems since last summer, started for Mexico in both tournaments.

Guardado, 31, a team captain, underwent surgery earlier this month to repair a nerve issue in his leg while Reyes, 25, a center back, injured his right thigh in his last regular-season game with Portuguese club Porto 2½ weeks ago.

Another defender, Hector Moreno, 30, has been slowed by a foot injury but is expected to make the team.

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“The four of them — and the rest — have to show that they are ready. Otherwise, they won’t be there,” Osorio said. “The reality is that you have to take the best 23 in the best possible physical condition.”

As a result even players who are a lock for the team, like forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, say they feel the clock ticking in training camp.

“Our main goal is to get as fit as we can,” said Hernandez, who turns 30 on Friday following a season in which he made just 16 Premier League starts for West Ham United. “Our main goal is to perform in the present, not the future.”

Hernandez is well aware there can be surprises: He was chosen over more established players for his first World Cup team eight years ago despite not having played in any of the qualifiers.

“It’s your work with the team that determines whether you’re chosen or whether you’re not chosen,” he said. “Being Mexico’s leading scorer doesn’t give me one minute. Nothing’s guaranteed.”

And those question marks have opened the window ever so slightly for the likes of Edson Alvarez, a versatile defender who, at 20, is the youngest player on a veteran roster.

“These two games are an opportunity to show what we can do and raise our profile,” Alvarez said of Mexico’s final World Cup tuneups. “It would be a dream to be there. At the end of the day it’s a decision for the coach.

“It’s a team and he has to decide what’s best.”

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Alvarez’s age and inexperience — his 10 internationals caps are the fewest of any defender on the roster — make him the longest of longshots for Russia. But the uncertainty surrounding Moreno, Reyes and 39-year-old Rafa Marquez — who hasn’t played a competitive match in more than six weeks — could help Alvarez since he can play right back or replace Marquez at either center back or as a holding midfielder.

“Obviously that’s what every player works for, to go to the World Cup,” he said.

Even with Alvarez, the average age of the players on Mexico’s provisional roster is over 28, which will make the team one of the oldest and most experienced in Russia. Whether it’s the best Mexican team ever, however, was a question Alvarez said he couldn’t answer.

“I’m only 20,” he replied, smiling. “I don’t know what the others have been like.”

IF YOU GO…

Arrive early: Rose Bowl parking lots will open at 12:30 p.m. Monday for the Futbol Fiesta in Area H. Due to increased security and entrance wait times at the stadium, Rose Bowl officials suggest ticket-holders start making their way to their seats no later than 4:30, an hour ahead of game time.

Take advantage of off-site parking and Park & Ride shuttles: Shuttles will be at Old Town Pasadena (Parsons Engineering Building). This lot will have shuttle buses running on private roads directly in and out of the stadium prior to, during and after the game. Additionally, the Rose Bowl Stadium operates a Rideshare operation in Area H.

Clear-bag policy: Please plan for extended bag check and security lines before entering the Rose Bowl. The stadium has implemented a clear-bag policy for entry — the bags may not exceed 12 by 6 by 12 inches. Otherwise the bag must be 4.25 by 6.25 inches (clutch size, with or without strap acceptable).

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More information: Visit rosebowlstadium.com for additional details on shuttle information, interactive maps and pre-match activities.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com | Twitter: @kbaxter11


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