2019 saw the debut of Gerardo Martino as head coach of the Mexico National Team, and it couldn’t have gone any better, with El Tri winning all their games for the exception of one draw and one loss. Martino also got his first title as a national team coach after his spells in Argentina and Paraguay when he won the 2019 Gold Cup.
A fair criticism, however, was that the quality of the rivals left to be desired. The main drawback was that the only loss was a bad one, against the best rival Mexico faced all year when they lost 4-0 against Argentina. Martino will be tested next year, although it has even less of an opportunity to have quality matches as Mexico only has the Nations League and the start of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers as official tournaments.
Martino signs and shines against South American competition
After a long rumored signing, Gerardo Martino officially became coach in 2019 after his contract with Atlanta United of Major League Soccer ended. Mexico had been without a coach since Juan Carlos Osorio’s contract ended at the end of the 2018 World Cup. Ricardo Ferretti had been the interim coach during a spell in which Mexico lost five out of six games and where their level of play had been terrible.
With Martino at the helm, things looked more hopeful as Mexico prepared for their official competition, the 2019 Gold Cup. Martino’s debut as coach was a 3-1 victory over Chile. The win was the first one for Mexico over their South American rivals since the infamous 7-0 loss against them in the 2016 Copa America. It was a great sign for Martino. They would then defeat Paraguay in another friendly by a score of 4-2.
Mexico wouldn’t have any further action until the end of the Liga MX season, when they would play two friendlies prior to the Gold Cup. In those friendlies, Mexico defeated Venezuela and Ecuador to make it four out of four in friendly action against CONMEBOL teams. While they were only friendlies, they were the only chance to face non-CONCACAF action until another friendly in September, so they were possibly the most difficult opposition Mexico faced in 2019.
The Gold Cup
The Gold Cup was Mexico’s main official tournament of 2019. Even though it was a continental championship, a number of players decided to ask permission to skip it. Hector Herrera asked for time off to make a possible move to Atletico Madrid (which was later completed). Javier Hernandez asked for time off to be at the birth of his son and Miguel Layun missed the tournament for cancer treatment. Later on, Hirving Lozano got injured and missed out on the tournament, as well as the end of his season with PSV Eindhoven. Jesus Corona also missed out after he had failed to travel to the March friendlies because of a supposed injury, although he would not miss any action with his side Porto. Mexico was coming in with a weakened squad, but was still lead by players like Raul Jimenez and Guillermo Ochoa. This made them the favorite to win the tournament.
Mexico came in to the tournament and started with a 7-0 win over Cuba. The game had a hat-trick from Uriel Antuna, who had been cut from the team and only got in because Jorge Sanchez got injured in the last friendly against Ecuador. Mexico then beat Canada 3-1 in what was expected to be the toughest game of the group stage. They then closed out on a disappointing 3-2 win against Martinique.
In the Quarterfinals, El Tri had a tough game against Costa Rica, which ended in a 1-1 tie, the first of Martino’s tenure. In the penalty shootout, Mexico came close to going out but Ochoa came up big and Mexico got their ticket to the Semifinal against a surprising Haiti, who had eliminated Canada.
In the Semifinals, they had to once again go to extra time but got a 1-0 win off a Raul Jimenez penalty. Mexico had been frustrated but was the deserving winners and would face a United States team that was coming in having the better Semifinal result.
In the final, it was a tough game for Mexico with the United States having the better first half. Still, Mexico bounced back and took control of the game as Martino figured out US coach Gregg Berhalter, and Mexico got the 1-0 win off a long range goal from Jonathan Dos Santos. Mexico had won the Gold Cup and Martino finally had an international title.
Post Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League
After the Gold Cup, Mexico faced two friendlies before the new CONCACAF Nations League started in October. Mexico got an even better win against the United States in the first friendly by a 3-0 score, helped a lot by the return of Herrera, Corona, Hernandez and Lozano to the team. Then Mexico faced their toughest game of the year when they faced Argentina in a friendly. Argentina didn’t have the best squad, missing Lionel Messi and others, but Mexico had a nightmare game from center backs Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo and lost badly 4-0. It was the first loss for Martino, and being it the best opposition that Mexico faced, it left a taste that Mexico’s great year might have been because of the low quality of opposition.
Things wouldn’t get better in terms of opposition in the Nations League as Mexico faced four games (two home and two away) against Bermuda and Panama. Mexico prepared for that with a mostly U-23 squad that got a win in Toluca against Trinidad and Tobago. Mexico then went with a mixture of U-23 players and veterans to Bermuda where they crushed Bermuda 5-1. Thereafter, in the only game Mexico played in Estadio Azteca, Mexico suffered somewhat but got a 3-1 win against Panama.
For the last games of the year in November, Mexico once again went with a mixture of U-23 and veterans. They got a solid 3-0 away win in Panama (the first since the year 2000) and then went back home to Toluca and closed out with what might be the worst win of the year, a last minute 2-1 win against Bermuda. While the game went minutes away from a disastrous result, the fact of the matter is that after Mexico won the group in Panama, they sent a mostly U-23 team and didn’t sub on the better players until later in the game when the result was getting away from Martino. Thus, Mexico closed out the year with 15 wins out of 17 games and the continental title.
It was a great year results-wise for Gerardo Martino, as Mexico got the wins and showed a good level of play, but Mexico will need to get to bigger challenges to show any sort of improvement for the national team under the Argentine. Unfortunately, 2020 doesn’t show much potential as the biggest tournament is the Olympic games for the U-23 team (if they qualify). Mexico will once again have to be content with CONCACAF action as the only official games they will play this new year.