El Tri will face a familiar foe in the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Gold Cup after Honduras stumbled in its group-stage finale against Qatar.
Mexico and Los Catrachos will square off in State Farm Stadium near Phoenix, home of the Arizona Cardinals, on Saturday night.
El Tri boasts a 22-9-7 record against the Central Americans, but the two regional rivals battled to a scoreless draw a little over a month ago, and Gerardo Martino’s boys have had trouble finding the back of the net this year.
On the other hand, La H will be nervously awaiting fitness reports on two starters – forward Romell Quioto and defender Maynor Figueroa, the team captain. Both players were stretchered off in the first half against Qatar and might face a race against time to be ready for Mexico.
El Tri adds Pizarro
Inter Miami’s Rodolfo Pizarro will return to El Tri to take up “Chucky” Lozano’s place as Concacaf will allow teams to fill roster spots vacated due to injury or Covid infection. Such roster adjustments will be permitted for all eight teams who reach the quarterfinals.
Pizarro was dropped from Gerardo Martino’s original roster when he picked up a groin strain in training. LA Galaxy winger Efraín Álvarez was summoned to replace Pizarro heading into the group stage.
Lozano, a creative winger, was knocked out of action only 10 minutes into Mexico’s opening match, and will be sidelined for up to six weeks. Pizarro is more comfortable playing behind the front line as a playmaker, and though he lacks Lozano’s speed, he would be expected to contribute with his passing and dribbling skills.
It would be a surprise if coach Martino inserts Pizarro into the starting line-up, but not out of the question since El Tri has scored just 4 goals in three Gold Cup games.
Striker Rogelio Funes Mori, winger Jesús Corona, midfielders Héctor Herrera and Edson Álvarez and goalie Memo Ochoa would seem to be the only untouchables.
Defenders Carlos Salcedo and Luis Rodríguez have started all three matches thus far, but both have proven error-prone though Martino does not appear to have full confidence in back-ups Gilberto Sepúlveda and Kevin Álvarez.
Of course, Osvaldo Rodríguez could be asked to move inside from left back, or “Tata” could opt to pair up veterans Héctor Moreno and Néstor Araujo in the center of the back line. He could also push Edson into the back four and replace the Ajax man in midfield with youngster Erick Sánchez or 2019 Gold Cup Final star Jona dos Santos.
Fullback Jesús Gallardo and midfielder Erick Gutiérrez have run hot-and-cold (but when “Guti” has been cold, he has been icy cold, making costly turnovers). Both veterans could be rotated out (Osvi Rodríguez at left back and either Sánchez or Dos Santos in midfield).
One wonders if “Tata” will dare make a bold move to shake up his team, but El Tri has been playing uninspired football for several months now and it make take an audacious move to provoke a reaction.
What’s coming up in the Gold Cup
The rest of the quarterfinals bracket looks like this:
Qatar vs El Salvador, in Glendale, Arizona, before Mexico’s match;
Costa Rica vs Canada, in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday;
USA vs Jamaica, in Arlington, Texas, in the Sunday nightcap.
Should El Tri get past Honduras, they will face the Costa Rica-Canada winner.
The semifinals will be played on July 29 in Houston and Austin, Texas, while the final is scheduled for Aug. 1 at Allegiant Stadium outside Las Vegas, Nevada.