Lackluster Mexico edges Suriname in Concacaf Nations League

Mexico was too much for Suriname despite an indifferent performance in Diego Cocca's debut as manager. El Tri won 2-0. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images)
Mexico was too much for Suriname despite an indifferent performance in Diego Cocca's debut as manager. El Tri won 2-0. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images) /
El Tri 2 Surinam 0
Mexico moved into first place in its Concacaf Nation League group with a 2-0 win in Suriname. El Tri next plays Sunday against Jamaica. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images) /

El Tri moved into first place in their Nations League group with an uninspired 2-0 win at Suriname in Diego Cocca’s debut as manager.

Defender Johan Vásquez got credit for the opener in minute 64, while Suriname’s Damil Dankerliu scored an own-goal in minute 82, accidentally knocking in a low Uriel Antuna cross from right in front.

Striker Santiago Giménez misfired on a penalty kick in minute 68, capping a disappointing outing for the 21-year-old Feyenoord star.

Goalie Carlos Acevedo – seen as the likely successor to Guillermo Ochoa for El Tri – came up with three saves, including a big one in minute 19 that saw the Santos Laguna netminder parry a rocket around his right post at full stretch.

Few standouts for El Tri

After a dismal opening 45 minutes that saw a tentative Mexico pushed off the ball too easily (when they weren’t alternately standing around waiting for somebody to take charge or making ill-advised passes), El Tri stepped it up in the second half.

Right back Kevin Álvarez was replaced by Julián Araujo and the Barcelona man teamed up well with winger Uriel Antuna, putting constant pressure on the Suriname defense.

Antuna and left winger Roberto Alvarado were ciphers in the first half (Alvarado led El Tri in turnovers) and left back Gerardo Arteaga was a disappointment. While Antuna produced several lovely plays (the Cruz Azul star earned the penalty call) and forced the own-goal, he squandered his share of scoring chances and misread the defense too often. For his part, Arteaga played considerably better in the second half.

Midfielder Charlie Rodríguez took the initiative at times and tried to create some offense but too often forced the issue while Giménez had to wonder if his mates knew he was on the team, so rarely did he get a pass.

As Mexico finally began to circulate the ball more crisply, their playmakers became a bit more decisive, though passing in the final third left a lot to be desired.

Captain Erick Gutiérrez and Erick Sánchez were steady but unspectacular playing the double-pivot in front of the back line where Vásquez and Israel Reyes acquitted themselves well in central defense.

El Tri closes out its group stage with a home game against Jamaica on Sunday. Mexico (7 points) needs only a tie to win Group A and advance to the semifinals while The Reggae Boyz (5 points) must defeat Cocca & Co to move on to the CNL Final Four.

Meanwhile, in Liga MX …

León can move into second place on Friday when they visit last-place Mazatlán FC in a make-up game from Week 1.

That match was postponed due to drug cartel violence in Culiacán to the north of Mazatlán sparked by the Jan. 5 arrest of Sinaloa cartel leader Ovidio Guzmán, the son of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Twenty-nine people were killed in the aftermath of the arrest.

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The Esmeraldas (21 points) are on a 7-game unbeaten streak (5-2-0), outscoring opponents 13-2. The Cañoneros are 1-1-9 on the season and in danger of finishing in the Relegation Zone.