It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was business as usual for the Mexico National Team as they defeated both Bermuda and Panama in their first two matches of the CONCACAF Nations League. Here are three takeaways from Mexico’s two wins.
All things considered, it was two positive performances from Mexico
Let’s be real here. Hype levels were at an all-time low ahead of these two Mexico National team matches against Bermuda and Panama. We can talk about what this tournament does for Mexico and the region, but the bottom line is nobody is really interested in the politics of it or any of this “long-term” planning mumbo jumbo. The fans want to see competitive matches, and these were most definitely not competitive matches.
If there was anything to take away from these pair of Mexico matches is that for the most part they were two very positive performances for El Tri. Yes, they struggled to open the scoring against Bermuda, and yes, they struggled in the second half against Panama. But at the end of they, wins are wins, and you would have been foolish to think that this group of players was somehow going to play like Manchester City after just a week of training with Gerardo Martino. You can certainly point at little things, particularly in the game against Panama where players like Erick Aguirre, Cristian Calderon and Rodolfo Pizarro struggled, but again, this was only the first time ever this group of players were playing together and against a decent side like Los Canaleros, no less.
At the end of the day, if you are Gerardo Martino you are happy with what you saw from this group. You take the good from it and keep working towards the goal of developing a lot of these youngsters.
Mexico still produce doubts on defense
The matches against Bermuda and Panama revealed something we already knew about the Mexico National Team, they are weakest on defense. You gotta give it to Gerardo Martino for backing Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo despite the horrific showing they gave against Argentina just a few weeks ago, but you have to say it is a little worrying that El Tri don’t seem to have better options.
In theory, if Mexico is to qualify to the 2022 World Cup as expected, Araujo and Salcedo will be Mexico’s starting center backs. The problem is they don’t seem to be entirely convincing. It’s not that Araujo and Salcedo are bad players, it is just that there is a sense of vulnerability about them. We know one of Mexico’s biggest problems in the big stage is maintaining focus for 90 minutes, If you can’t expect to do that against Bermuda and Panama, how can you expect to do that in the Round of 16 of the World Cup?
This isn’t just about Carlos Salcedo’s own goal against Panama. This is more about the overall vibe Mexico’s defense gives off. At the moment, Araujo and Salcedo are simply not giving off the same confidence they once were under Juan Carlos Osorio. It could be just a matter of perception, and in truth, they were rarely put under pressure. But the narrative on defense right now isn’t the best.
Martino is right to give the youngsters a chance
When it is all said and done, the only ones who will probably remember this game the most will be the players themselves, particularly the youngsters. Fans can pick and choose who they thought was the best and who they thought was the worst, but to each one of these youngsters this was invaluable experience.
Take the case of Cristian Calderon. Most would agree his game against Panama wasn’t exactly the best, but from a scouting standpoint, if there is anybody that can challenge Jesus Gallardo for the starting left back position, it is definitely Calderon. He seems to have all the necessary traits to be a top left back, but he needs to understand that with the national team he is going to find himself in unfamiliar positions he won’t find himself in with his club Necaxa. In this case, a player like Rodolfo Pizarro demands certain accommodations, and it was clear that Calderon was having trouble adapting to the situation. The best way for a youngster like Calderon to learn this, is in a game like this one.
In addition to somebody like Calderon, there is also the obvious one, Jose Juan Macias. JJ Macias is already a top player in Liga MX, and these are the kind of games where you have to show everybody that you are not just a temporary trend. Macias has now scored four goals in three matches, including the go-ahead goal against Panama. He is the perfect example as to why managers shouldn’t question themselves too much when playing the kids in these type of matches, and in that respect, Martino has got the right idea.