El Tri suffers twin gut punch on Road to Qatar

Gerardo Martino suddenly finds himself on a very hot seat in Mexico after ElTri lost two in a row. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Gerardo Martino suddenly finds himself on a very hot seat in Mexico after ElTri lost two in a row. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /
El Tri Memo Tata
Guillermo Ochoa had rare a tough day at the office in Edmonton as El Tri lost to Canada in a World Cup qualifier. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Mexico entered the two-date November FIFA break with a 3-point lead atop the Concacaf qualifying table and emerged in third place, 2 points adrift of surprise leader Canada.

Now El Tri and its fans have two months to lick their wounds, the former wondering what has gone wrong, many of the latter lobbying vigorously for a coaching change.

Lest you think a change in management is a bit rash at this late stage of the qualifying campaign, El Tri has qualified for every World Cup since 1994 but only twice has a coach survived the entire process – 2006 and 2018.

“Tata” Martino is on very thin ice (an appropriate metaphor considering the conditions in which El Tri played in Canada) but he has plenty of company in the dog house.

El Tri, fans on a downward spiral

Embarrassment, disaster, crisis. All words used to describe the current status of El Tri. However, the same words could be used to describe certain segments of the fan base.

Goalie Guillermo Ochoa was a primary culprit of the Canada loss, his two errors leading directly to goals. The day after the game, his wife revealed that he and his family were getting death threats on social media.

Tigres fullback Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez has had an atrocious qualifying campaign and he looked awful in El Tri’s loss to Team USA last week. On Wednesday, Tigres officials revealed that he, too, has been getting threats and the club has supplied a special security detail for “Chaka.”

El Tri has six games remaining on the calendar, four of which are home games. Unfortunately, the next two home games will be played in empty stadiums because fans at a World Cup qualifier in October could not refrain from participating in the homophopic chant that has plagued Mexican stadiums (and stadiums in the United States when El Tri plays friendlies there).

This is no way to show support for your team. Fans – even those not directly involved in these incidents – should feel shame at these cowardly expressions.

Meanwhile, back on the pitch …

Coach “Tata” Martino is understandably on a very hot seat, his roster selections, starting line-up choices and his tactical strategies all getting legitimately questioned. His over-reliance on the Class of 2018 has been criticized in this space before (on more than one occasion) and his tardiness in making in-game adjustments has been frustrating.

After being overwhelmed for long stretches of the 2-0 loss to Team USA, Martino switched from a 4-3-3 to a 5-2-3 against Canada. Perhaps not a bad decision in and of itself, but the team did not appear very comfortable the first half in Edmonton.

El Tri appeared to have a bit more security at the back in the 5-2-3, but there was confusion and hesitance about how to move the ball out of the back. Canada’s 3-4-3 line-up effectively shut down easy outlet passes and controlled passage through the middle of the field.

The result was that Mexico’s front line was forced to return into the team’s own half to help sustain possessions, with little positive to show for it. And with just two midfielders – both rather defensive-minded (Edson Álvarez and Héctor Herrera) – El Tri created only two chances in the first 45 minutes, neither of which resulted in a shot on goal. In fact, Mexico did not get a shot of any kind before the half.

Mexico’s fullbacks were less error-prone as the three central defenders offered support, but neither Jesús Gallardo (left back) nor Jorge Sánchez (right back) provided anything of substance to the El Tri performance. Gallardo did have one nice overlapping run in the first half but, as he so often does, he spoiled the chance with an errant centering pass.

For once, “Tata” made early substitutions, sending on Roberto Alvarado and Jesús Corona to start the second half, but a second mistake by Ochoa allowed the Canucks to go up 2-0 in minute 52. So while El Tri started finding space in its offensive third and creating opportunities, much of that was due to Canada’s decision to park the bus.

Now, El Tri has two months to mull its situation before qualifying play resumes on Jan. 27 (a tough road trip to Jamaica) and we’ll all hope that “Tata” suddenly realizes that he does indeed have playmakers available while hoping that he’ll turn them loose in Mexico’s remaining games.

The breakdown

As alluded to above, goalie Guillermo Ochoa earned his share of blame for Mexico’s loss. It has been a long time – a very long time – since the América skipper came in for deserved criticism. His quality between the pipes is still unquestionable, but his “San Memo” moniker has been tarnished.

Just before the halftime whistle, defender Néstor Araujo made a terrible mistake, sending a clearance from just to the right side of goal directly into the middle of the field. Orbelín Pineda was unable to control the ball and Canada’s Alistair Johnstone swept in, corralled the loose ball and let fly from 20 meters. Ochoa should have easily parried the ball around the post for a corner, but inexplicably he blocked it and left it in the middle of the box where Cyle Larin was the first to arrive. That made it 1-0 in minute 45+2.

Seven minutes after the restart, Canada earned a free kick wide left about 45 meters from goal. Stephen Eustáquio curled a beauty of a cross over the top of the scrum toward the back post. Ochoa clearly had time to come off his line and punch the ball clear but instead dropped back into his goal mouth. When Jesús Gallardo neglected to continue tracking Larin, the unmarked Canadian striker was free to knock the ball into the net unimpeded.

Next. Roster mismanagement vexes El Tri. dark

Basically, that was all she wrote. Herrera produced a nice headed goal in minute 90 but it was too little too late.