Thanks to late heroics from Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Mexico squeaked out a 1-1 draw versus Venezuela finishing first in Group C. Juan Carlos Osorio once again tinkered with the lineup, and the effects were felt immediately. In the 10th minute, La Vinotinto went ahead when Jose Manuel Velazquez scissor kicked in a volley in the box past J.J. Corona. With El Tri down, Osorio made adjustments bringing in Tecatito due to Aquino's injury, and Layun and Chicharito were brought on after halftime.
For 69 minutes, Mexico piled on the pressure, but Venezuelan goalkeeper Daniel Hernandez was lights out. It was not until in the 80th minute, when Tecatito had a Messi- esque play, taking the ball on a captivating run from about 10-15 yards out of the box leaving 5 Venezuelan players in his tracks and putting a right-footed shot to the left of the goalkeeper. Tecatito's bit of magic not only helped extend Mexico's unbeaten streak but also wrapped up the top spot in Group C for Mexico. They now head to Santa Clara where they wait and see who they will face between Panama and Chile.
Here are my three takeaways from the match:
When will the lineup experimenting stop? When is enough, enough? Mexico is set to enter the knockout stage, and Juan Carlos Osorio has yet to define his starting 11. The constant modifications are starting to become a detriment to the team's success, and while the unbeaten streak has yet to be broken, the team has struggled versus inferior competition.
In their match against Jamaica, although victorious, the team looked very sloppy and had it not been for Guillermo Ochoa, they might have tied or even lost. Against Venezuela, Osorio trotted out six new players that had not started before, and had it not been for some individual brilliance from Tecatito, Mexico might have lost. Unfortunately, Mr. Osorio, Mexico is not as deep a team as you'd like to believe and certainly not with some of the players you called up. Mexico can't trot out a B plus team, when you lineup players out of position and expect them to succeed. It was not until the 65th minute of the third match in the group stage, when Chicharito came on, that Mexico was fielding what could be considered their best lineup (give or take 1 or 2 players).
Soccer players thrive on consistency and familiarity, and a perfect example would be Tecatito and Layun. Both of these players play together at Porto, practice daily, and know how one another moves in their natural positions. When Layun came in, this opened up space for Tecatito. It allowed him to make the diagonal runs he is known to make (like his goal) because he knows Layun would be pushing up on the wing covering his position. On the other side, two players who are just getting acquainted were not having the same success. Paul Aguilar, a right back known for his attacking prowess, could not push up how he would have liked because Lozano was staying wide and not pinching in. Mexico is in the middle of an international tournament. They have advanced to knockout stage, and the time to be testing lineups is over. One consistent lineup with the best 11 players should be starting out every game from here on out.
If there is one thing Osorio's side has shown thus far in Copa America, it is their resolve and determination. Twice in the tournament, the team has been in less than optimal positions, but their will to fight and get the necessary results have been on display. In the Group C opener against Uruguay, when La Celeste tied the match and momentum was completely on their opponents side, Osorio's men rallied back to score 2 goals in the final 8 minutes. The match against Venezuela was the first time in the Osorio Era that Mexico had ever been down. With some modifications to the lineup along with a little bit of magic, the team once again showed tenacity in difficult times and got the result that was needed to win the group. The knockout stage is a completely different animal than the group stage, and there will be times when the team will be down. Thankfully, this team has already experienced some of those moments, so if they so happen to rise again, they will band together and overcome their adversity.
Un Crack! Leading up to the Copa when people asked who I thought the breakout player would be, my answer all along was Tecatito. He is one of the most special and talented players in recent Mexican soccer history. While Hirving Lozano is right on his heels as far as speed, Tecatito's change of pace, vision, and ball control are currently unrivaled in Mexico. He has the ability to influence the outcome of a game in one play due to his tremendous skillset which is exactly what he did versus Venezuela. It wasn't just that his goal was extraordinary. It was implications behind it and the fact that he threw his team and country on his back when they needed him most. Tecatito demonstrated that a player of his caliber should never come off the field because you never know when he will pull off a little bit of magic that the team needs.