As El Tri prepares to take on Germany in Philadelphia tonight, pundits are wondering when the much-needed rejuvenation of the Team Mexico roster will begin.
The debate has a name and it is Guillermo Ochoa.
The 38-year-old goalie has started each of the past 12 Mexico games, including the three most recent friendlies.
While pundits agree that Memo is clearly Mexico’s top goalie right now, the question being posed is why not begin the search for the next best goalies, especially since Ochoa will be 41 by the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around.
Mexico, Lozano can’t win for losing …
Though the question is a valid one, one can’t help but think of the clever quote from “Life of Brian” in reference to a leper complaining about being cured by Jesus Christ without so much as a “by your leave” — “There’s just no pleasing some people.”
After the disappointing 2022 World Cup and the disastrous Concacaf Nations League earlier this year, the buzz was that Mexico needed to regain its confidence.
Ochoa helped with that, conceding just two goals in six Gold Cup matches and posting shut-outs in all three knockout matches as El Tri restored a measure of pride.
In addition to his steady presence between the pipes, Mexico’s skipper is a positive locker-room presence and team leader. This should not be overlooked considering the strife caused by other recent stars who’ve roiled camps with prima donna attitudes and blatant rules violations.
Of course, a sound case can be made that coach Jimmy Lozano should have turned to back-up goalies for the October friendlies and even Saturday’s Ghana match (Ochoa did not face a single shot on goal in earning another shut-out)
The discussion is not exclusively focused on Ochoa, however, as the context of the debate takes into account the fact that Mexico, as co-host, has an automatic berth in the 2026 World Cup.
The angle here is that results in friendlies should take a back seat to the process of building a winning team for the “Mundial.” In other words, now is the time to give younger players a chance to prove their worth allowing coach Lozano try out in-form players and “youthenize” El Tri instead of relying on the same old faces.
This philosophy is particularly valid since the Federation so rarely arranges quality opposition for Team Mexico. Inasmuch as tonight’s game against Germany represents that rare match-up against a top-notch team, it would be understandable to rely on the “regulars” with a mix of newcomers as a sort of measuring stick.
Come November, El Tri will face a Concacaf rival in the Nations League quarterfinals to close out the year with the semifinals scheduled for March and the Copa América in the United States in June/July.
On the other hand, camaraderie is notable
So while the evolution of the roster continues and underperforming veterans are weeded out (we can hope), even the notoriously cynical Mexican sporting media is bullish on the locker room attitude since Jimmy took the reins of El Tri.
The team responded to Lozano when he took over heading into the Gold Cup and confidence has become increasingly evident. Even after the mediocre performances during the October break – a showing that really fueled the ongoing debate about the need to push aside some veterans – the esprit de corps and the trust in Jimmy were reassuring developments.
Saturday’s solid win over Ghana was another step in the right direction with left back Gerardo Arteaga, 25, and midfielder Erick Sánchez, 24, getting rare starts. Newcomer César Huerta also made another solid impression after coming on in minute 62, providing the assist on Uriel Antuna’s game-clinching goal.
Ochoa’s leadership and the fact that a large group of “regulars” are establishing themselves at the same time has provided affirmative synergy that Jimmy has tapped into. And the fact that the new coach is the first Mexican to lead the national team since 2015 has boosted morale.
So for now, we’ll watch and see how Mexico competes against Germany – Die Mannschaft is coming off an easy 3-1 victory over Team USA – and then look to see how Jimmy and the Federation prepare for the November Nations League contests.
It is worth remarking that the coach pointedly asked worthy El Tri candidates who were not summoned for this training camp to be patient, insisting that their time would com.
So while patience remains a virtue, it might soon be exhausted if opportunities for young blood are not forthcoming in 2024.