Honduras at Mexico: El Tri must shake out of its doldrums

Raúl Jimenez reacts after he was ruled offside and his goal annulled during Mexico's game vs Canada. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Raúl Jimenez reacts after he was ruled offside and his goal annulled during Mexico's game vs Canada. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
El Tri Honduras preview
Giovani dos Santos, Christian Giménez and Fernando Arce appear to be in shock after Honduras took the lead over El Tri during their 2013 World Cup qualifier in Mexico City. (Photo by Miguel Tovar/LatinContent via Getty Images) /

Matchday 5 of the Concacaf World Cup qualifying calendar finds Honduras visiting Mexico in a virtual must-win game for El Tri.

“Tata” Martino’s squad is coming off a lackluster performance in a 1-1 draw against Canada in Estadio Azteca, the once formidable home fortress for El Tri. Anything less than a win against “Los Catrachos” and panic will commence in Team Mexico headquarters.

El Tri is no longer invincible in “El Coloso de Santa Úrsula” (we need only go back to the 2013 qualifying campaign to find the most recent upset loss at the Azteca, a 2-1 win for Honduras) and “Tata” has not made it any easier with unimaginative line-up selections.

Mexico has the personnel on hand to make short work of Honduras and get its qualifying campaign back on track. And El Tri Nation will demand nothing less than a comfortable victory on Sunday night (while chewing its collective fingernails to the cuticles).

El Tri must find its mojo

Mexico was unable to impose its tactical style on Thursday’s game, stymied by Canada’s speed and an uninspired midfield. “Tata” opted to “play it safe,” starting Class of 2018 veterans Héctor Herrera and Andrés Guardado and neither earned high marks.

El Tri was hoping that its attacking trident of “Chucky” Lozano, Raúl Jiménez and “Tecatito” Corona would dominate but without midfield assistance it was never going to work. To make matters worse, “Tecatito” had a particularly poor game, insisting on taking on double-teams and losing possession time and again.

The defense was acceptable except for a mental error by veteran Néstor Araujo on a throw in. The Celta de Vigo defender failed to get back upfield after Canada’s side-out, keeping Jonathan Osorio onside and the Toronto FC midfielder coolly converted Alphonso Davies’ slick pass to equalize just before the half. It didn’t help that no midfielders thought to mark Davies, Canada’s most dangerous player.

Against Honduras, the lack of dynamic play in the middle of the pitch must be rectified and Carlos Rodríguez and Sebastián Córdova should be candidates to get the start. “Tata” might even be wise to insert Alexis Vega in place of “Tecatito,” making it clear that a starting spot with El Tri must be earned on merit, not on reputation.

A sense of urgency required

Coming into the October FIFA break, El Tri led the Concacaf standings with 7 points, trailed by Team USA and Canada with 5 points. Pundits projected another 7-point haul for El Tri, but that calculation was based on two home wins at the Azteca and a road draw in El Salvador.

Mexico can (and should) still fulfill that prediction, but now El Tri must defeat Honduras on Sunday then steal a win in El Salvador on Wednesday. Certainly not outside the realm of possibility, but it won’t happen unless the team finds a spark.

Tweaking the starting line-up could do the trick and it’s arguably long past due. “Tata” and El Tri lost two finals to the U.S. this summer (and played with little inspiration throughout the Gold Cup) and complacency could be an issue.

If holdovers from the Class of 2018 are allowed to feel a sense of entitlement, the Road to Qatar will be extremely bumpy. Putting some trust in the new generation of stars – especially those who came home from the Tokyo Olympics with bronze medals – would be a bold move and I’m confident “Tata” would be rewarded with effort and resolve.

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Mexico has talent on its roster and “Tata” would be well-served to turn some of that talent loose on Sunday. His reluctance to do that so far this year is primarily to blame for El Tri’s sluggish form.