‘Tata’ roster mismanagement plagues slumping El Tri

Héctor Herrera (No. 16) has been a shadow of the regal midfielder that held court in the middle of the El Tri line-up for the past eight years. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Héctor Herrera (No. 16) has been a shadow of the regal midfielder that held court in the middle of the El Tri line-up for the past eight years. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /
El Tri Tata roster
Jesús Corona had a chance to put El Tri ahead against Team USA last week in minute 30, but mishit a perfect lead pass from “Chucky” Lozano. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

Mexico faces Canada tonight in a critical World Cup qualifier while dealing with a crisis of confidence, a testy media and unrest among its loyal fanbase.

El Tri lost to Team USA for the third time this year, falling out of first place in the Concacaf table. The 2-0 setback continued the uneven performance that has plagued Mexico for more than a year now.

And coach “Tata” Martino does not seem to have a solution. His insistence on sticking with the Class of 2018 is a primary reason for this stagnation, and his questionable roster selection only adds to the frustration.

The embattled coach has yet to figure out how to cobble together a reliable back line while the offense has struggled to put the ball in the net.

El Tri fans call for Tata’s head

Even before the final whistle in Cincinnati, “FueraTata” began trending on social media. Mixed among the rabid “Out with ‘Tata’” shouts are the angry demands for the return of “Chicharito” to El Tri.

While the first is a legitimate gripe – fans have every reason to be upset with the team’s performance this year – the second is an example of good marketing, enticing you to acquire something you don’t need.

The crux of the problem is Martino’s blind reliance on veterans and his reluctance to give in-form youngsters a shot. I touched upon this back in August after the Gold Cup debacle.

With several first-team players unavailable while on duty in Tokyo with El Tri Olímpico, Martino failed to make full use of his roster, instead putting heavy minutes on his starters. The result was a tired squad facing a youthful U.S. side in the final just three days after going 120 minutes against a sprightly Canadian team.

The coach wasted a chance during a six-game tournament to evaluate players who might have been contributors down the road (winger Efraín Álvarez, 19, played 72 minutes in two games; defender Gilberto Sepúlveda, 22, played 21 minutes in two games; midfielder Erick Sánchez, 22, played 55 minutes across four games; midfielder Alan Cervantes, 23, played 9 minutes in a single appearance).

In essence, Martino has committed to the name players that he inherited from Juan Carlos Osorio, several of whom are not at the top of their game.

‘Chicharito’ is not the answer for El Tri

Despite the clamor on social media, Javier Hernández would not resolve Mexico’s scoring woes. Raúl Jiménez is clearly the better choice at center forward. The dilemma for El Tri is the lack of playmakers.

“Chucky” Lozano and Raúl are a threat to any Concacaf defense, but winger Jesús “Tecatito” Corona has been a non-contributor. Sure, “Tecatito” was the Portuguese league Player of the Year two seasons ago, but he has been trending downward ever since. He had just 2 goals and 8 assists in 30 games last season and has fallen out of favor at Porto this season.

“Tecatito” had hoped to move to a big club this summer (Sevilla and AC Milan made offers), but when no deal was made, the flashy winger went into a funk. As a result, he has appeared in only five games out of 11 this season, playing 90 minutes only once, and contributing just one assist. His lack of form has carried over to the current qualifying campaign during which “Tecatito” has started five games, picking up just a single goal and one assist while piling up oodles of turnovers.

There’s no reason for Martino to stick with “Tecatito” when he is not in form, particularly when he has Orbelín Pineda at his disposal.

Midfielder Héctor Herrera has been a stalwart for El Tri for nearly a decade, a key starter for Mexico in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. But since his move from Porto (where he captained the Liga Primeira powerhouse) to Atlético de Madrid, his playing time has shrunk considerably.

Herrera has just two starts in 13 La Liga games this season, with five other appearances as a sub, while also making brief cameos in two of the club’s four Champions League matches. The rust has shown in the qualifiers as he lacks the assertiveness and clever passing that defined his presence for El Tri in the past.

With Edson Álvarez playing at a high level in front of the back line, it would be more beneficial to have another playmaker in midfield. Sebastián Córdova, Charlie Rodríguez and Roberto Alvarado would better options.

Analyzing Martino’s defensive choices would take a longer essay, but “Chicharito” would not solve those issues either. El Tri desperately needs better action in its attacking third, smoother transitions from defense to offense and more productivity from midfield.

El Tri comes up short against Team USA. dark. Next

If “Tata” doesn’t adequately address these issues, El Tri could find itself in fourth place after tonight’s match in Canada.