The CONCACAF U-20 Tournament finished, and for a second straight time, the United States was crowned champion. While Mexico technically improved by finishing in second place, better than their semifinal finish in 2017, they still finished by being outplayed and losing to the United States. We look back at the good, but mostly the bad for Mexico in this tournament.
Good: Mexico qualified to the U-20 World Cup. The most positive thing for Mexico is that they were able to get their ticket to the U-20 World Cup. While for most fans it’s the least expected from the team, past history has showed that in this age category, it’s hasn’t always been that easy. Many tournaments were missed opportunities for Mexico (the most famous example was when Francisco Ochoa and company missed their opportunity to play a U-20 World Cup after getting eliminated in Honduras and the U-17 team was winning the World Cup). The new format of the tournament meant that Mexico only went through over Jamaica because of goal differential, but getting a ticket was the main objective and they accomplished it.
Bad: Mexico looked poor when facing the better teams of the competition. A lot was made after Mexico lost to the United States about how Mexico was totally outplayed by their rivals in the finals. And yet for many of us who had seen this team before, this was expected. Previously, Mexico had been outplayed by Panama and Jamaica.
Because of the new format of competition, Mexico had a group of 5 other teams, 4 of them of very inferior quality and Mexico disposed of them easily. Jamaica, the only team not in that level, was a very tough opponent and Mexico suffered to get a 2-2 draw.
The move to the second round meant Mexico would face El Salvador and Panama. El Salvador was a better team than most of the ones in the competition but not as good as Jamaica. Mexico had a tough time but were eventually able to defeat them. They were lucky that the win meant that Mexico had qualified to the World Cup, because Panama went on to expose Mexico in the next game. After a horrid performance in the first half, Mexico went down 2-0. They rode on a potent offense in the second half to get a 2-2 draw and only went through to the final because of having one less yellow card. Had Panama kept it together, they would have deservedly played in the final instead of Mexico. Ultimately, the fact that they are likely to face better teams than these (USA, Panama) in Poland doesn’t bode well for El Tri’s tournament prospects.
Good: Mexico’s offense responded at times and they will have plenty of depth. Mexico’s best aspect was their offensive weapons. By far the best players Mexico had were Diego Lainez and Misael Dominguez, both offensive players. Lainez is widely considered a phenom and he did well whenever he played, although coach Diego Ramirez’s system had him at times too isolated in the wings. Forwards Jose Juan Macias was the tournament’s golden boot and showed some good things, and the best surprise also came on the offensive side in Diego Hernandez. After having a bad start to the tournament, he gradually became a great weapon and changed the games in which he came on.
This offense can also only get better as there are a couple of players making waves in Liga MX who weren’t called up to the tournament but were eligible like Queretaro’s Marcel Ruiz and Daniel Lajud from Monterrey.
Bad: The Defense. If there is one place Mexico struggled was on defense. Mexico benefited the most from playing inferior teams that couldn’t attack very well, but every time they played quality teams, the defense suffered badly. From Jamaica upwards, the teams that had the speed and physical presence to damage Mexico did a good job of doing so. In the second round. The midfield did a terrible job of winning the ball back and attackers went through like it was a highway. The centerbacks looked poor in stopping the forwards or playing out the danger and instead opted to lob balls in desperation. Both goalkeepers failed to impress too.
At the end, though Mexico suffered from the injury to their best defender Carlos Vargas (who got injured minutes into their first game), it was still too much of a drop in level that can’t be explained just by an injury. Mexico will need to work a lot on defense, and unlike on offense, there doesn’t seem to be many defenders left at home that can do the job. Mexico might have a weak group of defenders in this age group and it might be the team’s biggest weakness heading into the World Cup.