Mexico must shake off Nations League disaster, focus on Gold Cup

After a disastrous Nations League showing, El Tri must regroup in a hurry. (Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
After a disastrous Nations League showing, El Tri must regroup in a hurry. (Photo by Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images). /
El Tri Gold Cup
Jaime Lozano has only been on the job for a few days but he must have a rattled El Tri ready to face Honduras on Sunday. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

El Tri and new coach Jaime Lozano would like nothing better than to quietly prepare for the Gold Cup and Sunday’s group stage opener against Honduras.

But Team Mexico’s disastrous 3-0 loss to the U.S. in a Nations League semifinal set off a domino effect that is still wreaking havoc in the El Tri camp.

Just four days after the debacle against their bitterest regional rivals, coach Diego Cocca was sacked and Lozano was installed on an interim basis. For a nice concise primer on just exactly how El Tri found itself in this dilemma, ESPN’s César Hernández has it here.

So now Lozano – the young manager who guided Mexico’s U-23 squad to a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics just two summers ago – is tasked with leading El Tri to redemption. And if he turns things around, he just might be able to make a case for getting the job permanently.

Turmoil continues to trouble El Tri

Before Mexico’s face-saving (sort of) win over Panama in the Nations League consolation game, a locker room mutiny seemed to be brewing.

Players were threatening to leave the team before the Gold Cup, some citing differences with coach Cocca, others pleading for permission to return to club teams to address roster concerns.

Defenders Johan Vásquez (Cremonese in Serie A) and César Montes (Espanyol in LaLiga) played on teams that had been demoted and were desperate to straighten out their club situation. Vásquez was also upset about lack of playing time with El Tri. The 24-year-old back-liner had not seen any action at the World Cup and was left on the bench for the U.S. game.

However, once the coaching change was made, locker room issues were addressed satisfactorily. It helped that both Vásquez and Montes had starred for Mexico at the Olympics under Lozano.

But as El Tri arrived in Houston ahead of the Gold Cup, word filtered out that winger Alexis Vega would be left off the roster, unable to shake a nagging knee injury that had plagued him throughout the Liga MX playoffs. Vega had been penciled in as a starter on the wing for the Nations League but he missed both matches.

Then on Saturday – the day before the Gold Cup kicked off – it was announced that Sebastián Córdova would also miss the tournament.  The midfielder is said to be suffering from fatigue (no official injury was announced), a complaint that limited Córdova to just 40 minutes of action during the Nations League.

That’s two key playmakers El Tri will not be able to count upon, and the pair keyed the Mexico attack in Tokyo so Lozano knew them quite well. Roberto Alvarado and Diego Lainez – both of whom were on the Olympic team – were named to take the vacated roster spots.

As if these absences were not enough, Concacaf piled on by slapping a three-game suspension on Montes for his role in the melee that blackened the 3-0 loss to Team USA. In addition, left back Gerardo Arteaga was hit with a two-game ban for his part in a late-game scuffle with Sergiño Dest.

So coach Lozano has his work cut out for him. His first test comes against Honduras on Sunday and, despite the (justifiable) hand-wringing, Mexico will be favored against the Central Americans who have not scored against El Tri in their past four encounters.

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Of course, if “Jimmy” can’t pull the tricolor out of its funk, the downward spiral might continue for some time and Lozano will be looking for work next month.