El Tri: ‘Tata’ must make bold decisions in qualifiers

Gerardo Martino has some work to do to restore his reputation after losing twice to Team USA this summer. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Gerardo Martino has some work to do to restore his reputation after losing twice to Team USA this summer. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /
Tata El Tri Part 3
Defenders Luis Rodríguez (left) and Héctor Moreno did not enjoy convincing performances at the Concacaf Gold Cup. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

When El Tri kicks off its World Cup qualifying journey against Jamaica, there will be questions to answer. It would be no surprise if there were still a bit of a hangover from the calamitous summer during which Mexico lost two finals to Team USA.

Whether he knows it or not (he does), coach Gerardo Martino is on a short leash and El Tri can ill afford a slow or indifferent start. The knives are out and the nay-sayers are waiting for the briefest stumble to call for Martino’s head.

After Jamaica at home on Sept. 2, Mexico travels to Costa Rica (Sept. 5) and then to Panama (Sept. 8). If El Tri has anything less than 7 points (some might insist that 9 points is the minimum acceptable haul), the hounds will be loosed.

In this, the third post-mortem since the Gold Cup disaster, we’ll consider the problems “Tata” Martino created for himself heading into the qualifying campaign.

Holes in the back line

In our previous look at how “Tata” mismanaged El Tri, I asserted that the failure to rotate players led to fatigue; this exhaustion was evident in the semifinal and the final. The decision could also be seen as a lack of confidence in his bench players.

In addition, the young subs at the Gold Cup were deprived an opportunity to gain experience, to prove their mettle and thus strengthen the bench. This is especially important if you believe, as I do, that the starters selected by “Tata” are not – or ought not be – clear-cut choices for Qatar 2022.

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Fullbacks Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez and Jesús Gallardo should not have guaranteed roster spots (they might not be deficient, but neither was exceptional) and defender Carlos Salcedo lived up to his reputation as an occasional liability. Another Gold Cup defender, Héctor Moreno, will be nearly 35 when the next World Cup rolls around and he was surprisingly error-prone.

Are these really the players “Tata” is counting on in Qatar?

In my opinion, Martino’s unwillingness to rotate his players lends the impression that his “starters” are irreplaceable, a notion that can lead to complacency and a sense of entitlement. There have been hints of this in the play of “Tecatito” Corona with El Tri recently.

Genuine competition in training camp and an attitude of “what have you done for us lately?” could produce better quality performances and eliminate the smugness that too often permeates the demeanor of Mexico’s players, especially against “lesser” competition.

El Tri Olímpico will get a look, as should others

No doubt, members of the bronze medal-winning squad will be invited to training camp ahead of the qualifiers. Defenders Johan Vásquez and César Montes should get serious consideration, while several offensive Olympians were already in the senior rotation with El Tri (Carlos Rodríguez, Uriel Antuna) or set to get invitations (Alexis Vega and Sebastián Córdova).

But “Tata” wasted the chance to see promising youngsters at the Gold Cup. Defender Gilberto Sepúlveda played just 21 minutes, midfielder Erick Sánchez got only 46 minutes of playing time, and midfielder Alan Cervantes saw just 9 minutes of action. Fullback Kevin Álvarez did not even get on the field.

Sepúlveda, 22, might have been a better choice to maintain a high line against the youthful U.S. forwards in the final, while Álvarez, 22, can play either fullback spot. The youngster from Pachuca should have been given minutes because neither “Chaka” nor Gallardo inspire confidence.

Had Sánchez or Cervantes spelled Edson Álvarez in the group stage (Edson played all 270 minutes in those three games), the latter might not have felt it necessary to rashly cut down Nicholas Gioacchini in the 116th minute of the final. Gioacchini, who had subbed on in minute 87, was wide on the left flank with few options that threatened the Mexican goal and Edson even had help inside. But the Ajax man was exhausted and he opted to “play it safe” with a professional foul. The ensuing free kick resulted in the game-winning header for Team USA.

By refusing to rotate his players at the Golf Cup, “Tata” seemed to be declaring that his World Cup line-up was set (minus Chucky Lozano and Raúl Jiménez). Will this oversight limit the coach’s options in the early qualifiers? It shouldn’t. But now it’s likely that the media will interpret any experimentation as desperation.

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Regardless, El Tri is still a work in progress, especially on the back line. “Tata” must make bold decisions and the first three qualifiers offer the perfect opportunity for the coach to encourage competition and show the veterans that they must earn a spot on the roster.