El Tri desperate to end losing streak to Team USA

Mexico's defense figures to be chasing Team USA striker Christian Pulisic all across the TQL Stadium turf. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Mexico's defense figures to be chasing Team USA striker Christian Pulisic all across the TQL Stadium turf. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /
El Tri - USA
Alfredo Talavera (in green) was unable to keep out a late header by Miles Robinson (No. 12) as El Tri lost the Gold Cup final  to Team USA. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) /

Here’s a question nobody wants to ask: Will Gerardo Martino be out of a job if El Tri lose to Team USA on Friday?

The great Concacaf rivalry moves to the World Cup qualifying stage where Mexico sits atop the table with 14 points from six games. The U.S. is 3 points back, with Canada – El Tri’s opponent on Tuesday – on 10 points.

The Americans come into the game with confidence after defeating El Tri twice this summer – 3-2 in the Nations League final in June, and 1-0 in the Gold Cup final in August. And therein lies the rub for “Tata.”

If Mexico were to lose to its brash Neighbor to the North a third consecutive time, the invective, denunciations and faultfinding would be cacophonous (it’s already started) … so let’s not entertain that notion.

Will Ohio become El Tri bugaboo again?

The U.S. held its last five World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, winning the first four by identical 2-0 scorelines. El Tri broke that streak in dramatic fashion five years ago today, winning 2-1 on a minute 89 Rafa Márquez header off a corner kick.

So the U.S. Soccer Federation has moved Friday night’s match 106 miles south to Cincinnati where temperatures could dip into the 30s by game’s end.

Henry Bushnell writes about the whys and wherefores of this decision for Yahoo!Sports (you can read his article here). Fanatical fans of El Tri that often make Mexico appear to be the home at team matches in the U.S. will be largely kept out of the stadium.

But “Tata” and El Tri have bigger issues than the noise coming from the 26,000 fans in attendance.

Top defenders César Montes (knee injury) and Néstor Araujo (red-card suspension) will be unavailable, while veteran Héctor Moreno has been playing through fitness issues at Monterrey. It might be too much to ask of the 33-year-old defender with tired legs to chase after the young guns U.S. coach Greg Berhalter will send out onto the pitch.

That means (gulp!), Mexico could place Cruz Azul veteran Julio César Domínguez and Genoa back-liner Johan Vásquez (he’s just 23). And backing them up is untested 22-year-old Gilberto Sepúlveda.

Don’t get me wrong … “Cata” is a quality defender who was an integral part of the Cementeros squad that won the Liga MX titles last season, but he has only 20 caps and has played in just five official games for El Tri (three Copa América matches in 2015 and two World Cup qualifiers earlier this year).

Vásquez is getting his feet wet in Serie A this season after helping El Tri Olímpico win bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. He has just two caps (both friendlies) with El Tri, making his senior team debut in October 2020.

Sepúlveda is even greener, seeing only 165 minutes of action (only 22 minutes in official matches) across five games.

Another possibility is transferring Luis Romo (Cruz Azul) or Edson Álvarez (Ajax) into the back line. Both have experience on defense (Edson played fullback for El Tri at the 2018 World Cup and Romo came up through the Querétaro system as a central defender). “Tata” could also opt for a five-man back line (placing Romo or Álvarez in the middle).

Can Raúl and ‘Chucky’ be difference-makers?

“Tata” will hope that his attacking trident of “Europeans” can offset any potential woes in front of All-World goalie Guillermo Ochoa.

Top striker Raúl Jiménez missed both U.S. games this year while still recovering from his horrific head injury suffered in an English Premier League game on Nov. 29 a year ago. His presence was sorely missed and El Tri struggled to create scoring opportunities.

Raúl finally returned to action with Wolves in late August and he has 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 EPL games and found the net for Mexico in El Salvador last month.

Hirving Lozano played all 120 minutes in the Nations League final but was unavailable in the Gold Cup final as he was injured in Mexico’s first group-stage match. He has 3 goals in 16 appearances with Napoli. Raúl and “Chucky” have combined for 43 goals for the national team.

The third prong of the El Tri attack is Jesús “Tecatito” Corona, a flashy winger who is having a down year at Porto, apparently disgruntled over the team’s failure to transfer him over the summer.

It will be interesting to see if “Tata” has a quick hook. If “Tecatito” struggles (he is prone to turnovers, especially when stubbornly – and selfishly – taking on double-teams), will Martino turn early to Liga MX playmakers Orbelín Pineda (Cruz Azul) or Sebastián Córdova (América)?

Although El Tri will surely be focused on maintaining defensive discipline and protecting against the lethal U.S. counterattack, the game could be won in Mexico’s offensive third. Raúl, “Chucky” and “Tecatito” will be facing a young U.S. back line (the nine defenders summoned by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter have an average age of just over 23).

The key to victory for El Tri (besides putting the ball in the net more often than Team USA) will be ball possession, limiting turnovers and creating opportunities in front of net.

Next. Final Liga MX Power Rankings. dark

Oh, and a draw should be considered an acceptable outcome (Mexico would remain in first place heading into the match in Canada), although the howling dogs are lining up at the gate demanding nothing less than victory.