Mexico preparing for Nations League showdown vs Team USA

Diego Cocca has just over a week to get El Tri ready for a grudge match against Team USA. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Diego Cocca has just over a week to get El Tri ready for a grudge match against Team USA. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Cocca El Tri Nations League
Diego Cocca and El Tri heard boos as they walked off the Estadio Azteca pitch following a listless 2-2 draw against Jamaica on March 26. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Mexico is gearing up for a summer revival as Diego Cocca and El Tri march toward a Nations League clash against Team USA followed by a bid for Concacaf glory at the Gold Cup.

Before the June 15 showdown against Uncle Sam’s Army in Las Vegas, Cocca and Co. will face Guatemala on Wednesday and Cameroon on June 10.

The two friendly matches – the first in Mazatlán and the second in San Diego – will help Cocca pare down his roster to 23 ahead of the game against the United States.

The new El Tri manager has already reduced his player pool from 40 to 33, but not all 33 will be available for the exhibition matches. Still, Cocca has kept his men informed of how he plans to utilize the roster this summer

A brief respite for a few El Tri stars

A few European-based players were granted a brief vacation as their seasons just ended. Goalie Guillermo Ochoa (Salernitana), plus defenders César Montes (Espanyol), Johan Vásquez (Cremonese) and Gerardo Arteaga (Genk) each played this past weekend.

In addition, Alexis Vega (Guadalajara) and Sebastián Córdova (Tigres) were given time off after they competed in the Liga MX Final.

These players will not be asked to join the El Tri training camp until the squad convenes in California ahead of the Cameroon match.

Cocca has also identified several players who will not remain with the team after the upcoming friendlies, informing them of his decision.

As such, on June 11 defenders Kevin Álvarez (newly acquired by América) and Gilberto Sepúlveda (Chivas), wingers Diego Lainez (Tigres) and Roberto Alvarado (Chivas), midfielder Alan Cervantes (Santos Laguna), plus forwards Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton) and Roberto de la Rosa (Pachuca) will be released to begin summer vacation or report to their teams.

El Tri will be without two top offensive threats – “Chucky” Lozano (Napoli) and “Chicharito” Hernández (LA Galaxy). “Chucky” suffered a Grade 2 right knee sprain in early May while “Chicharito” – banned from the team by Cocca’s predecessor due to rules violations – was not selected after failing to find his form after a thigh injury early in the MLS season.

Make or break for Cocca?

The new El Tri boss took over for Gerardo Martino in March, tasked with boosting the team’s morale and performance after a disappointing showing at the World Cup.

Cocca has coached Team Mexico in three games thus far, two official games and a friendly against Team USA.

Under the guidance of the 51-year-old Argentine, El Tri defeated Suriname 2-0 in a Nations League group stage match before struggling to fashion a draw at home against Jamaica, also in a Nations League group stage contest. Neither performance drew praise.

The match against Team USA – in Phoenix on April 19 – ended in a 1-1 draw. Uriel Antuna scored for Mexico in minute 55 and Jesús Ferreira equalized for the Americans in minute 81.

Should the Aztec Army come up short in the Nations League semifinals against the U.S. and then stumble in the Gold Cup, the Mexican Soccer Federation might face pressure to sack Cocca. A few pundits urge caution.

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El Tri is winless against their biggest rivals in their past five meetings (0-2-3), and Mexico’s status as the Giants of Concacaf is a thing of the past. That doesn’t sit well with FMF executives and Cocca knows it.