Mexico came away from the Concacaf Nations League with a bronze medal but their 1-0 win over Panama on Sunday can best be described as uninspired.
Embattled coach Diego Cocca might have done just enough to avoid getting pink-slipped but that’s primarily because El Tri’s first Gold Cup contest is next Sunday.
Cocca made six line-up changes from the squad that was routed by Team USA on Thursday, but Mexico was just as error-prone and ineffective going forward with some defensive mix-ups tossed in for good measure.
Left back Jesús Gallardo scored in minute 4 and El Tri survived as Panama had two goals annulled for offside, the first one – a nifty bicycle kick by Anibal Godoy in minute 55 – reversed by VAR.
One-word ratings of Mexico players
The fact that this was a third-place game no doubt impacted the motivation level, but when one considers that many of these players are competing for playing time in the upcoming Gold Cup, the lack of ambition can’t be overlooked.
Errant passing, poor disorientation and lack of tactical awareness plagued Mexico throughout the contest, such that very few starters earned a passing grade. In this case, very few means just two.
Coach Cocca has a tough job ahead of him, made even more difficult by rumors of a near-mutiny in Las Vegas heading into the Panama match.
Putting aside all the locker room drama (for now), here’s a quick look at Mexico player ratings:
Guillermo Ochoa – aging
Julián Araujo – rusty
Israel Reyes – inconsistent
Johan Vásquez – solid-ish
Jesús Gallardo – fortuitous
Luis Romo – sturdy
Erick Sánchez – imprecise / noteworthy
Luis Chávez – disinterested
Uriel Antuna – indecisive
Santi Giménez – unimpressive
Ozziel Herrera – green
Too much indifference, too little passion
Midfielders Romo and Sánchez were the lone shining lights of the game for Mexico.
The Monterrey man patrolled the middle of the pitch with aplomb and offered up several line-breaking passes that should have been dealt with better by the front line.
Sánchez got a two-word rating because he was shaky in the first half but outstanding in the second half. Her broke up numerous Panama moves and produced three steals that led directly to scoring chances that, naturally, were squandered.
Defender Vásquez came close to earning a passing grade but there were too many back-line breakdowns such that, even though he might not have been directly at fault, everybody on defense got penalized.
Turnovers were a constant problem and right wing Uriel Antuna was particularly profligate. His mistakes – of commission as well as omission – were so notable that he was booed by the few fans in attendance when he was subbed out just before the final whistle.
Antuna, Chávez and Gallardo combined for more than 40 turnovers, and Reyes was caught out of position more times than is comfortable to accept.
Mexico now travels from Las Vegas to Houston and the team will have three days off before training resumes before Sunday’s match against Honduras in the Gold Cup opener.
Cocca – if he holds onto the job – will have roster decisions to make as he evaluates the game film. In addition to the cringe-worthy performances of some of his players, the troubled coach must assess a few worrisome fitness issues.
Winger Alexis Vega – expected to be a starter in Vegas – has been unable to overcome a nagging knee injury that plagued him during Guadalajara’s Liga MX playoff run. He will miss the Gold Cup. Chivas teammate Roberto Alvarado is a likely replacement.
After helping lead Tigres to the Liga MX title, playmaker Sebastián Córdova was battling fatigue and saw only 8 minutes of action this past week, entering after the U.S. game was already out of hand and never leaving the bench against Panama.
In other Mexico soccer news
Panama’s Under-23 team made up for the senior team’s close loss to Cocca & Co by stunning El Mini Tri 4-1 to claim the Toulon Tournament trophy earlier Sunday.
Raúl Chaubrand’s charges were outhustled, outmuscled, outsmarted and outcoached. If I were to adhere to the one-word format utilized above, “outplayed” would certainly suffice.
It was not a good day to be a Mexican soccer fan, and supporters of the senior team made their displeasure quite clear by staying away from the Nations League consolation game.
Allegiant Stadium was eerily empty (perhaps just 1/10th full at kickoff), an unsettling sight for tournament organizers and Federation officials who surely must now admit that they are facing a crisis. The senior team is in disarray and junior teams are underachieving. Let’s wait and see what the Gold Cup has in store.