Diego Cocca era begins in earnest with Nations League match in Suriname

Diego Cocca will experience a real trial by fire next week when El Tri takes on Team USA in a friendly. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Diego Cocca will experience a real trial by fire next week when El Tri takes on Team USA in a friendly. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
El Tri Suriname Cocca
Pachuca’s Erick Sánchez could see some playing time Thursday night when El Tri takes on Suriname in a Nations League match. Sánchez scored against Suriname in Mexico’s 3-0 win at home last June. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The Diego Cocca era officially gets under way tonight in South America where El Tri will face Suriname in a Concacaf Nations League contest.

And naturally, before the new coach has stood on a sideline, the notoriously cynical Mexican media is pointing out his mistakes.

Team Mexico travels to hot, muggy Suriname (game-time temps expected to bump up against 30˚C – 86˚F) with a chance to climb into first place in their Nations League group.

El Tri then returns home to take on Jamaica at Estadio Azteca on Sunday in the final group-stage match.

Split squad irks a few pundits

Last month, coach Cocca submitted a list of 34 players from whom he’d select his squads for the two games, making it clear that he would not use the same 22 in each contest.

The rationale provided was that most of the Europe-based players would travel to Mexico at the beginning of this week, deal with jet lag, etc., and prepare for Sunday’s game. The Mexico-based players – some of whom took part in an informal training session earlier this month – would comprise the bulk of the roster traveling to Suriname.

Seems reasonable, right? Cocca is trying to rejuvenate a veteran-laden squad that crashed out early at the World Cup in November. This approach allows him to get a good look at a broader cross-section of players right from the beginning.

Additionally, neither Suriname nor Jamaica are expected to pose a serious problem for an El Tri side playing with purpose, even though Cocca will have little time to imprint his tactical style and no time to experiment with line-ups.

Of course, the split squad notion drew the ire of Record columnist Rubén Rodríguez who termed the decision “Cocca’s first mistake.”

Rodríguez worries that the split squad will create a hierarchy – an issue that arose under Gerardo Martino as critics pointed out that some European players were granted benefits and given greater leeway with regard to training – and could discourage those who play well in one game then are left off the roster in the next.

My take: let’s play the games and give Cocca time to establish a style and a strategy after which we can more meticulously analyze performance. The target – the 2026 World Cup – is more than three years away and it’s ridiculous to slam a blueprint that is not even drawn up yet.

El Tri to face a depleted Suriname

Heading into this week, the Caribbean team – described as having a European style – figured to be a tough opponent as several of their stars play in Europe.

However, three of the team’s stars – Haps Ridgeciano (Genoa), Tjaron Cherry (Maccabi Haifa) and Kenneth Paal (Queens Park Rangers) – are unavailable after picking up knocks over the weekend.

El Tri coasted to a harder-than-it-should-have-been 3-0 victory over Suriname in June 2022 in Torreón, Coahuila, and Mexico sits in second place with 4 points (1-1-0), 1 point adrift of Jamaica (1-2-0). So a win in Paramaribo tonight lifts El Tri into first place ahead of Sunday’s final group-stage match against Jamaica.

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Knowing the finicky nature of the Mexican sporting press, anything less than two convincing wins will be met with a litany of reasons why Diego Cocca is the wrong man for the job. Such is the life as El Tri coach.