In their first game back following their nightmare exit from the Copa America Centenario, Mexico survived a first half scare to come from a goal down and beat El Salvador 3-1 at the Estadio Cuscatlán. The result leaves Juan Carlos Osorio’s side a perfect five out of five in World Cup qualifying, while El Salvador is left to watch the hexagonal from the TV.
Here are my three takeaways from Mexico’s victory over El Salvador:
Debutant Sepulveda scores
What a satisfactory debut it turned out to be for Queretaro forward Angel Sepulveda. For the first time he was starting for the Mexico national team, and for the first time he was scoring. For good measure, he also earned Mexico the penalty, netted by Raul Jimenez, that sealed the points for El Tri.
In truth, expectations were not high. Few outside those who remember him being an integral part of the Queretaro team that made the final in 2015 may know him well. But Sepulveda looked like a good source of encouragement early in the game. On the field, he certainly looks more capable of playing the direct game Juan Carlos Osorio likes to play. At 5’11, he is a lot taller and stronger than most other wide players that Mexico has, and that helps when a lot of your game-plan derives on sending hard passes around the edge of the box.
Admittedly, Sepulveda could have had a couple more goals tonight. All things considered, though, it wasn’t a bad way for him to burst into the national team scene.
Juan Carlos Osorio escapes CONCACAF curse again
There is just something about these away trips to Central America that often bring the worst of Mexico. Coming into a setting that can make any team feel uncomfortable, credit has to go to Juan Carlos Osorio and the Mexico national team for coming away with the win.
This has been a disappointing few months for Mexico, but it should be noted that this win at El Salvador is not a one-off. Under Juan Carlos Osorio, El Tri beat Honduras 2-0 and earned a historic win at San Pedro Sula. In a tough environment like the Cuscatlán, and with a team depleted of stars like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, the fact that Mexico found a way to fight back and get the win says good things.
Sure, these type of games are often cited as “easy”, but that was probably a fair point 20 years ago. There is rarely easy games in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying anymore. This will clearly continue to be a time of turbulence for Juan Carlos Osorio and the Mexico national team, but if they keep grinding out wins like they did on Friday, Mexico will be a strong candidate to do well in the hexagonal.
Fullback problems continue for El Tri
Juan Carlos Osorio has said to journalists several times before that he prefers Miguel Layun at right back. On Friday, with Paul Aguilar injured, there was little choice for critics but to accept that Miguel Layun would be playing on the right flank.
Problems, though, came up again for Layun. The FC Porto player looked particularly vulnerable, and he failed to get himself involved on the attack. When there was a need to throw in a fresh face in the fray, following Jorge Torres Nilo’s abject first half, it was clear why Miguel Layun should be playing at left back.
Layun might not have the strength or aerial ability of a Torres Nilo, but he certainly has more tactical value. By moving to the left back position for Torres Nilo in the second half, Layun showed exactly that. Jorge Torres Nilo, who recently was benched at his club Tigres, has arguably been Mexico's worst performer in the past few months, and on Friday, he had another game to forget, handing El Salvador the penalty that gave them the lead.
The worry here is Mexico don’t have much depth in that position. This is a problem that can be traced back all the way to youth national team sides. In fact, Torres Nilo was present in the last Olympics for Mexico as an overage player due to a lack of left back in the team. Obviously, this is the kind of problem that can’t be solved overnight, and it should give Osorio further headaches down the road.