Less than a year ago, Mexico had a logjam at the goalkeeper position. Now, things are different.
When El Tri take on Senegal in a friendly Wednesday, they'll have just two goalkeepers available: Alejandro "Pikolin" Palacios of Pumas and Cruz Azul's Jesus "Chuy" Corona.
Corona was a strong candidate for Mexico No. 1 in the summer, but the 35-year-old has struggled to find his form both with the national team and his club since a disappointing summer at the Copa America in Chile. But at least he's playing. The man who beat Corona to the top job, Guillermo Ochoa, has a total of zero league minutes since the 2014 World Cup. His cup totals aren't much higher with the post-tournament move to Malaga proving to be an enormous mistake.
He shook off the rust to lead Mexico to a win in the summer's Gold Cup but Club America goalkeeper Moises Munoz supplanted him when it came time to fight for CONCACAF's Confederations Cup berth in November. There was talk the 30-year-old would return to Liga MX to get some playing time this season, but another window closed and Ochoa remained in Spain. Still, his high level of play at the 2014 World Cup has some El Tri fans convinced he should still be representing his country at the most important tournaments.
The coaching staff doesn't share that view but hasn't ruled out the possibility he could help the Olympic team in Brazil this summer.
"Who wouldn't like to have a goalkeeper like Ochoa?" Olympic coach Raul “Potro” Gutierrez said at a news conference. "In Mexico there are goalkeepers who are at a very high level even though they might not be playing."
Mexico's long legacy of producing world-class shot stoppers isn't going to end. Gutierrez might not even need to take a goalkeeper as one of his three above-age players for the Olympics. Club Tijuana's Gibran Lajud and FC Dallas' Jesse Gonzalez are both better than the majority of other goalkeepers their age. 19-year-old Raul Gudino has spent this season learning under Iker Casillas at Porto. Chivas goalkeeper Tono Rodriguez already has won a gold medal and is a regular starter at 23. There are plenty of prospects in the pipeline. These players are the future.
But in the here and now, it's a somewhat bleak situation. Corona hardly looks like he has even one more major tournament in the tank. And while Palacios earning his first Mexico cap at the age of 34 is a great story for a likable guy, he's nothing more than a good league goalkeeper. Munoz, who just turned 36, also is beginning to decline in quality as he learns he can't make his body do some of the things it used to. And while Ochoa was a star, who knows what he even can offer at this point? It's been so long since he's truly been challenged on the pitch.
The one shining light is Alfredo Talavera. The Toluca goalkeeper isn't part of the team for this one-off friendly taking place outside a FIFA window, but you can bet Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has him penciled in for the World Cup qualifiers against Canada in March.
"Alfredo is a player you could export," Osorio said recently. "He has a very high level of skill that I think allows him to aspire to being in Europe for his aerial soccer and I think he also is getting a lot better playing with his feet."
The Colombian also has said Talavera's level is so high he could play in England. After Munoz started Mexico's first World Cup qualifier this cycle, the first match Osorio oversaw, Talavera took the gloves for the win against El Salvador. He's the best goalkeeper in Liga MX at the moment, and though he hasn't put his stamp on the No. 1 role, he's the favorite to step in while Ochoa sits and Corona struggles.
Talavera is 33, but a 35-year-old starting goalkeeper at a World Cup wouldn't be too much of an issue. Ochoa presumably will find some playing time at some location before the World Cup. After Russia, Rodriguez, Lajud, Gonzalez and the next generation should be ready to take over.
In the interim, there might be some uncomfortable moments in a place where Mexico is accustomed to being very secure.
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