El Tri finds itself in unusual must-win situation

Gerardo Martino will be back on the sideline for Mexico after serving a one-game suspension. (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
Gerardo Martino will be back on the sideline for Mexico after serving a one-game suspension. (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images) /
El Tri v Guate
Teenager Efraín Álvarez (#18) could find himself with plenty of extra playing time now that “Chucky” Lozano has been ruled out for the remainder of the Gold Cup. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

El Tri finds itself in a spot of trouble as it prepares to take on Guatemala tonight in their second group stage match at the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Not only is El Tri in second place (behind El Salvador) but Coach Gerardo Martino is also running out of offensive options.

Winger “Chucky” Lozano was badly injured in the team’s opener – a scoreless draw vs Trinidad & Tobago – and will miss the rest of the tournament, while back-up striker Alan Pulido is not expected to be available until the third group match as he recovers from a foot injury.

As if that weren’t enough, Mexico is also worried about the continuing issues with its fans violating anti-discrimination regulations by insisting on screaming a homophobic chant at the opponent’s goalie.

If the offense continues, El Tri could eventually be booted out of the tournament.

El Tri must focus on what it can control

With so many controversies bouncing around the Mexico camp, “Tata” Martino must ensure his guys are ready to play Guatemala, a team who received a last-minute invitation to the Gold Cup after multiple Curaçao players tested positive for Covid.

It was obvious the heavily favored Mexicans were rattled by the shocking injury to “Chucky” only 10 minutes into the match vs T&T, and no doubt unnerved that the ref made no call at all. Even worse, the ref – Costa Rican Ricardo Montero – allowed play to continue as “Chucky” lay prone on the pitch while a pair of teammates frantically gestured for assistance.

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But El Tri must put all that behind them and focus on defeating Guatemala.

With “Chucky” out and Pulido unavailable, the burden falls on Rogelio Funes Mori and “Tecatito” Corona to generate offense. Center forward Funes Mori – a naturalized citizen – is already in the eye of the storm as ultra-nationalist fans vocally object to “foreigners” playing for El Tri. Getting on the score-sheet and leading Mexico to a win would go a long way in quieting the jingoism.

One way to help calm nerves is for El Tri to improve its service from the flanks. Against T&T, wingers and fullbacks demonstrated a recurring inability to deliver accurate crosses. Time and again, centering passes clattered against the first defender or were sprayed to no one in particular. That must be corrected.

Captain Héctor Herrera will be key to the El Tri attack. He must organize the offense from the center of the pitch and help improve ball movement. Quicker passing and better spacing would provide open alleys for passes in the final third. Patience will be critical for El Tri.

It might be interesting to see if “Tata” makes changes to the starting line-up, particularly out wide. Fullbacks Osvaldo Rodríguez and “Chaka” Rodríguez (no relation) were particularly ineffective when moving forward.

Addressing the offensive chant

The disgusting “puto” shout from pseudo-Mexico fans caused two stoppages late in the game against Trinidad & Tobago, effectively interrupting El Tri’s stepped-up pressure as it sought the game-winner.

Mexico team officials were disappointed that Concacaf rejected the proposal that Herrera, as team captain, make a statement to the crowd before the opening whistle. This was the procedure used in Mexico’s two pre-tournament matches and it appeared to be effective.

FIFA and Concacaf are determined to eliminate the discriminatory bellowing and are willing to make Mexico pay a steep price if the fans continue to ignore the warnings.

Wednesday’s game will be played in Dallas (Saturday’s match took place in nearby Arlington, Texas) so the fan base in attendance could be relatively similar. We’ll have to wait and see how they respond.

Los Chapines looking for a new coach

Guatemala is fresh off an 18-month suspension that prevented the Central American national team and its club teams from participating in FIFA-sanctioned events. The punishment was related to corruption linked to soccer federation officials.

With the unexpected invitation to play in this year’s Gold Cup after the team came up short in a preliminary match, Guatemala is looking to invent itself. The current team was hastily assembled only days before its opening match (a 2-0 loss to El Salvador on Saturday).

Rafael Loredo – a Mexican – is serving as interim manager while Guatemalan officials conduct a coaching search reportedly focusing on Mexicans. The three names mentioned thus far are Enrique Meza (a four-time Liga MX champion and one-time manager of El Tri), Juan Antonio Torres Servín (former Pumas coach and currently the coach of Antigua in Guatemala) and Carlos de los Cobos who has coaching experience in Liga MX, MLS and as manager of El Salvador’s national team.

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“Ojitos” Meza would appear to be the front-runner and has been recommended by countryman Eugenio Villazón who is presently the director of Guatemala’s youth teams. The question is, will Meza – at 73 – be interested in taking on the task two years after being fired from his last job (Veracruz).