Mexico is heading to the Gold Cup semifinals. That alone is reason for celebration, and it's good for El Tri that it is, because there was nothing else about their quarterfinal performance worth celebrating. They were uninspiring for long stretches and easily could have lost to Trinidad and Tobago, but they came away 1-0 winners to keep their confederation championship hopes alive.
Raul Jimenez delivered the win for Mexico, finding the net in the 84th minute to provide the difference for El Tri. It was a clinical finish for the young striker, who redirected a Miguel Layun cross just inside the post to ignite the green-clad crowd of 54,229 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
But while Jimenez's goal and the win was memorable, the rest of the match wasn't. Mexico struggled to create chances in the first half, only once really coming close to scoring, but Jimenez was ruled offside when he found the net in the third minute and the goal was ruled out.
That Mexico struggled with the Soca Warriors was especially concerning considering the deplorable state of Trinidad and Tobago football. The Soca Warriors didn't even qualify for the third round of World Cup qualifying after being beaten by Guyana and were third place in their group this tournament, their first Gold Cup since 2007.
The second half went better for Mexico, but they were hardly dominating. Jan-Michael Williams made two outstanding saves, but most of his 10 stops were easy as can be and Kenwyne Jones was giving Mexico's defense problems of their own. Jimenez almost put Mexico in front in the 55th minute, but his shot hit the post and after that chance went begging, it looked like the match was bound for extra time.
Eventually, Jimenez was able to provide the winner and, fittingly, it came from Layun, the only other Mexican who truly had a good match. Pretty or not, Mexico is alive, but it will take better if they want to keep breathing after Wednesday's semifinal against Panama, who has beaten them once already in this tournament.
- This isn't Mexico's first team, nor are El Tri playing many other countries' first teams, but at what point does Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre have to look at Jimenez's play and consider him for the first team? And not as a substitute either. Oribe Peralta hasn't proven to be the best partner for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and if Jimenez can lead the line for a Christian Benitez-less Club America, he has to jump ahead of Peralta on the second striker list.
- Layun has thrust himself into the right back conversation with a couple decent matches. While he is still a defensive liability, Israel Jimenez was just as bad defensively at the beginning of the tournament and neither Severo Meza nor Hiram Mier has made much of a case to be the first choice right backs in their recent appearances for Mexico. Nobody thinks Layun is the ideal answer and, frankly, he isn't near Mexico's best right back, but he does a couple things well. That alone puts him in the mix, which says as much about Mexico's right backs as it does about Layun.
- For every good thing Carlos Pena did against Trinidad and Tobago, he did three terrible things. On a night when Jorge Enriguez's injury kept him sidelined and Gerardo Torrado was sent off for Cruz Azul, the search for a central midfield partner for Jesus Zavala continues. Chepo has to hope that Hector Herrera gets playing time at Porto and plays well or he may be stuck deciding between old -- Carlos Salcido -- and older -- Torrado.