Mexico finished in last place of their group after failing to win a single game in the Central American and Caribbean games. This spectacular failure raised some alarms, especially when after a combination of results all they needed was to beat Haiti. A lot of questions have now been asked, particularly about how this team went from finishing in second place in Toulon to finish last in a group with Venezuela, El Salvador and Haiti. But perhaps the biggest question Mexico need to ask themselves is if Coach Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz is the man to handle the process of qualifying to the Olympic games.
Under Ruiz, Mexico finished in second place of the Toulon tournament with a very talented side, earning 7 points in the Group Stage with wins over Qatar and China and a draw against England. They then defeated Turkey in the Semifinals before losing to England 2-1 in the Final. With all that said, there were signs that made it seem like they did it mostly on talent alone. Ruiz had the same starting lineup for most of the games, even though in the group stage they would play every 3 days. By the China game, it looked like physically it was hurting the team. In the Semifinals against Turkey, everything started to crumble as Cesar Montes, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Diego Lainez all left that game through injury. Montes and Gonzalez would then miss the final when they had been key players all tournament. In the final Mexico took and early lead but went down 2-1. With a half to go, Ruiz took out Uriel Antuna for Hector Mascorro, and with that move alone went all of Mexico’s offense. El Tri finished a well deserved second place and Lainez was the player of the tournament, but at the end of the day, it was an opportunity lost.
Mexico’s team for the Central American and Caribbean games was going to be based on that same Toulon Tournament team, with only a few exceptions due to club restrictions. They started with a loss to Venezuela 2-1. While there was some criticism of the defeat, it could’ve been based on many fans not knowing that Venezuela has become a powerhouse team in youth teams after finishing second place in the 2017 U-20 World Cup . Then a couple of days later, they went down to 10 players and lost to El Salvador. According to reports, Mexico hadn’t played well before going down a man, and El Salvador is no Venezuela. But because El Salvador lost to Venezuela, it meant a victory by any score against Haiti would give them the ticket to the Semifinals. Mexico took a lead but Haiti tied and held on for the 1-1 draw.
After the elimination, a lot of the criticism from Ruiz went to the clubs for not allowing him to have the same team as in Toulon. However, the fact of the matter is the Haiti game was a clear example of how the team never looked good enough to win. It was team with a total lack of cohesion. To make matter worse, things weren’t done to help the team. Salvador Reyes was easily the worst player of the team, as he was the first option through the wings but could never get past his Haitian counterpart. A bad game is understandable, but not the fact that he played the full 90. The team’s only hope was Diego Lainez. While there might be some reason behind Ruiz’s criticism, the squad was good enough in talent to have gone through El Salvador and Haiti. Neither of those countries are a powerhouse or had an advantage over this Mexican team. Whatever work had been done prior to the tournament was not reflected on the field of play.
The path to the 2020 Olympics is going to be tough. The United States has a lot of good youth players and now Canada is getting to the mix with guys like Alphonso Davies. You also have to add the Central American teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama who are always going to be tough. While Mexico have the talent to rise, they might not have enough talent if they go with a handicap in the coaching area. A similar situation already happened with Ruiz and this team. In the U-20 CONCACAF Championship, Mexico looked to have the more talented team. They had won all 3 games and faced a United States team that had lost their opener to Panama. but at the end, El Tri ended up losing 1-0 to the U.S. Most worrying, like in the Central American and Caribbean games,was the way they lost. After taking an early lead, the U.S. took control of the ball and Mexico never looked to threaten. It was always closer to it being 2-0 than 1-1. Ruiz had more than enough time but the team never changed their approach to the game and it showed. Quite simply he had been completely outcoached. Mexico would get their ticket to the U-20 World Cup where they would finish in the Quarterfinals, but they wouldn’t have a good game in the tournament until their final defeat against eventual champions England. There are only two spots for the Olympics, which means there are less opportunities and failure is extremely possible. Thus a weak link in coaching can definitely carry a risk of other teams exploiting it.
After Mexico’s sucess in the 2005 U-17 World Cup, Mexico’s started a new era in Youth football. Their second title in the 2011 U-17 World Cup was also a great success but it started a worrying trend. The title was won by Raul “Potro”Gutierrez, ex Mexican player getting his first opportunity. He would lead the team to a second final in 2013 and then take the reigns of the Olympic team. With the team, he won gold in the 2014 Central American and Caribbean games in Veracruz and silver in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. He would then qualify for the Olympics but Mexico were eliminated in the group stages. His success promoted the FMF to go with the trend of using the youth teams to give opportunity to ex Mexican players for their first coaching experiences. The U-20 teams were handed to Sergio Almaguer, another ex player with a similar career to Gutierrez. Almaguer had some of the more talented U-20 teams but would only win 2 games in two World Cups. Mexico finished in the Round of 16 in the 2013 World Cup and in the group stages in 2015, winning 1 game in each tournament. Neither of the teams showed more than the poor results they got. Now we have Ruiz going in a similar arc but facing the much tougher task of the Olympic qualifiers. Mexico needs to question if this path is sustainable. The Olympic games are very important to Mexico, to the point they once cost Hugo Sanchez’s job when he failed to qualify. Leaving things to a guy who hasn’t proven to be anything but average so far, is a BIG risk. With all the changes Mexico needs to climb over the hump, this should be the first one to be paid attention to.