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Juan Carlos Osorio

Rafa Marquez will be Juan Carlos Osorio’s first major test with Mexico

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Juan Carlos Osorio is in as the Mexico manager. Months after firing Miguel Herrera for an off-pitch incident, the Mexican federation announced the Colombian as its new national team coach.

Like any coach, Osorio is ready to put his own stamp on the team. In an introductory news conference –a format that always makes for an exciting adventure of diplomatic half-truths and premature assurances teams — the coach hinted at a possible setup going forward.

“Normally, we really like a 4-3-3 with only one central forward, and I think there are great possibilities with that,” he said at the news conference.

Now, the 53-year-old is set to head to Europe, a continent he knows well after working with Manchester City just after the turn of the century, to see how Mexicans are performing there. But he must work fast. The first match he’ll lead Mexico in is a World Cup qualifier against El Salvador on Nov. 13 before an unforgiving trip to San Pedro Sula to face Honduras.

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He is scheduled to see Javier “Chicharito” Hernandezi in Germany, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno in the Netherlands. He’ll got o Portugal to visit Raul Jimenez, Hector Herrera, Miguel Layun and Jesus Corona. And yes, he’ll travel to Italy to see Rafa Marquez.

Marquez is a problem for Osorio. At age 36, Marquez is still seeing first-team minutes in a top-four league. His career stalled in MLS, enduring a horrendous spell with the New York Red Bulls, before bouncing back and leading León to consecutive Liga MX titles. From there, he moved to Hellas Verona, his current spot.

There’s no doubting Marquez’s credentials. In addition to the titles in his native country, he also won league championships in France and Spain and was the first Mexican to be on a team that won the UEFA Champions League.

There is doubt, however, about whether or not Marquez is currently among the best XI Mexican players. His fellow center back at the 2014 World Cup, Maza Rodriguez, is no longer receiving call-ups, and while Marquez’s speed isn’t slipping as quickly as Rodriguez’s, it’s clear he’s lost several steps. But the player still isn’t thinking about calling time on his international career.

“In the World Cup in South Africa, I thought maybe I would retire,” Marquez said at a news conference before the CONCACAF Cup, a match that he started in midfield, moved back to center back and then was substituted. “But the level of football keeps me here. I’m conscious that at some point my level will drop. So really I’m just going to enjoy doing what I can, while I can.”

It hasn’t been a great 2015 in the Mexico shirt for Marquez. He did little in the CONCACAF Cup and was injured during the Copa America campaign. Plus, Mexico doesn’t need Marquez any more. He’s long been surpassed by Moreno as El Tri’s best defender, and Diego Reyes’ emergence at Real Sociedad seems to make the pairing for 2018 clear. That’s good news for Mexico, but it’s a problem for Osorio.

The Colombian, especially if he plays a 4-3-3, has little use for Marquez as a starter, but will a player of his pedigree want to fly in from Italy to sit on the bench for qualification? Moreno and Reyes are a strong center back pairing. A number of center back prospects, including U-23 defenders Carlos Salcedo and Jordan Silva, are waiting the wings. In the center of midfield, Jonathan dos Santos and Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez are much better options, with Club América’s Javier Guemez among other options.

MORE, ARNOLD: The new state of Mexico’s settled defense.

And yet, how do just get rid of Rafa? He’s a legend. One of Mexico’s most successful all-time players. He deserves some sort of send-off, and how Osorio handles the situation will influence public perception of his tenure. Osorio seems well aware of that.

“With Rafael’s experience and with the match situations he’s faced and what he’s achieved as a player at the club level, he can’t be left to one side,” the coach said at the opening news conference. “He has versatility, he can play as a central midfielder or as a defender in a line of three and maintain the best level in this aspect.”

The manager went on to say that he had seen similar cases during his coaching career. He’ll need to lean on that experience because there’s no easy answer to the Marquez problem. Perhaps the coach lets him stay with his European team for qualification and brings him along for the Copa America Centenario, which now looks like it will take place. Even then, Mexico will want to put out its best side against South American competition, which it doesn’t face very often. It’s tough to see Marquez in that group.

Maybe there is no grand farewell. It might not be his biggest concern at the moment, but what to do about Marquez is certainly in Osorio’s mind. How he handles the situation will tell Mexican fans a lot of what they want to know about their new coach.

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