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Six takeaways from Mexico’s First Round of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Mexico won it’s group on goal differential but now comes the hard part.

Mexican players celebrate and Aruban players collapse after Mexico 10-0 win over Aruba in the final group stage game.
Rafael Hernandez

Mexico won their group to qualify to the second round of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. Their draw with Jamaica (2-2) meant that they went through on the final game, although to their credit they won every other game and quite clearly. I look back at certain aspects of Mexico’s performance in the first round.

- The new format physically affected the Mexican team. It was clear from seeing Diego Ramirez’s face when I interviewed him after the Aruba win that he was very relieved of going through and a lot of it was because of the physical problems of the players. The new format had Mexico playing five games in 10 days, which meant Mexico only had a day rest before each game. With only 20 players, Mexico suffered like most teams did. The new format of having every team that enters the tournament participating in it without qualifiers meant that it was a lot of games in too short a time. If teams like Mexico struggled with it, what were we to expect from the less prepared “minnows”? One just had too look at Grenada’s second half performance against Mexico to know they did even worse. The new format, which is clearly CONCACAF’s attempt at trying to go after the favor and votes of the Caribbean teams, really needs to be questioned. What exactly is the benefit for small countries when they have to play games where they had no fans and when the only less ton learn is that a tired big team like Mexico or the United States can still crush them.

-First Division Liga MX experience really matters. If you saw Mexico’s team, the standout players showed how important First Division experience matters. By far, the standout players were Diego Lainez and Misael Dominguez. While Lainez is becoming an unprecedented youth star in Mexico, not seen since Carlos Vela and Gio Dos Santos burst out in 05, Dominguez is a rising impact player with Cruz Azul and both of them showed it. Very close to them was Jose Juan Macias. The Mexican forward scored 10 goals and is the tournament’s leading scorer. He has also already gotten a lot of playing time with Chivas. The rest of the other players were serviceable at times but kind of showed why they haven’t been getting as much playing time as others.

- Some players grew and showed interesting things. Alexis Gutierrez of Chivas was one of the better players in the midfield for Mexico. While Mexico’s midfield wasn’t particularly impressive (they failed to win a lot of balls especially against Jamaica), he’s a guy who stood out, especially as the tournament went by. Diego Hernandez, also of Chivas, was a very interesting case. Against Saint Martin he was one of the worst players, but when he came in against Grenada for Lainez, he became Mexico’s most dangerous player even above Lainez. A lot of it had to do with Grenada (they were physically DONE after they came back from halftime), but Hernandez did improve in the last two games to stand out. Gilberto Sepulveda and Mario Trejo also showed some things in defense too and hopefully can improve with the more time to rest.

- Mexico’s defense looks like their weakest link. Though Mexico defensively only allowed two goals in the First round (both of them against Jamaica), it was by far the biggest question mark. Jamaica was able to exploit something that a lot of the teams tried to do, which is using their physicality and speed to hurt Mexico. Mexican defenders looked very weak at times against this, in particular Efrain Orona. Mexico losing Carlos Vargas in the first game looks to be a big hit because Kevin Alvarez hasn’t looked well as his replacement. While Mexico went full out on attack against Aruba, a couple of times Orona and the other defenders struggled against the Aruban forwards. The fact the first serious rival they faced, Jamaica, made them look bad at times is a big hindrance to this teams chances at being a contender.

- Mexico seems to be predictable, although Coach Diego Ramirez improved as the tournament went on. While Mexico seemed to dominate the games, at times they went back to the old stuff we know of CONCACAF, dominating the ball without creating too much danger. Ramirez allowed Diego Lainez to move into the middle of the field as games went on, but at times Lainez was too far back in the wings and the opposition knew that. This meant Lainez became predictable and wasn’t exactly helped by the lack of companions he had. Players like Carlos Gutierrez failed to make a dent, as they didn’t have the speed or ability to help him. It wasn’t until Dominguez stepped up that a partnership seemed clear. But Dominguez missed the first game against Nicaragua and didn’t share the field with Lainez until the games against Grenada and Jamaica. Mexico did look a lot better in the final games, but it could have also been because of their rival’s physical tiredness, something that Mexico wasn’t immune to either according to Ramirez.

-Mexico seems to be benefited by the second round draw. Mexico might have not looked as good as expected, but they definitely seemed to be now in a better situation. Of the two groups, there is no doubt they got the easier one. They will face Panama and El Salvador.

Panama looked good in winning all their games and will be the tougher rival, but they did have some struggles along the way. Their big opponent was Canada and they defeated them 2-1, but the game was even until Canada went down a man in the first half. Panama then took the lead, but Canada tied it, even when they were down to ten. Panama won the game on a horrible mistake by the Canadian keeper, which was followed by a Panama sending off and a clear miss from Canada to tie the game.

Meanwhile, El Salvador won what many people thought was the easiest group. They struggled in a couple of games, mainly against the Cayman Islands and losing to Guyana, but did beat Guatemala to qualify. Physically, they will be at a disadvantage to Mexico and traditionally are a rival that suits them. That said, Mexico should be favorited to book their ticket to the U-20 World Cup.