In a week of the underdog surprises, Mexico stopped another upset by squeaking through a tough Puerto Rican team by a score of 2-1. Puerto Rico took an early lead to the surprise of Mexico, then rode on the superior coaching plan from Puerto Rico’s Marco Velez with a Mexican side that showed a lack of imagination to counter it. Mexico’s superior talent was able to get back the lead and they benefited from their superior capabilities as although Puerto Rico had arrived with a months rest, they faltered badly in the second half. Mexico will now face an El Salvador team in the Quarterfinals where they will play for the ticket to the U17 World Cup. Puerto Rico’s participation comes to and end but just like their U20 team, they surprised everyone and had a better tournament than expected.
Mexico started the first half with the normal dominance and the normal missing of a clear opportunity from Santiago Muñoz, who had a good chance but kicked it wide. It wasn’t normal when a ball in the area was failed to clear and it fell to Puerto Rican attacker Jose Luis Lopez, whose shot went past keeper Eduardo Garcia. It was Mexico’s first goal allowed in the tournament and it showed the lack of quality from the defenders to allow him time and space. Mexico came on with the pressure and forced the Puerto Rico’s keeper Ian Mercado to make a clearing save. Off the scramble, Mexico wasted another chance when Eugenio Pizzuto’s shot went wide. Israel Luna had another chance but his shot also went wide. Mexico started to be less in control as they started to make moves in the attack that didn’t benefit the team. Mexico had a great chance, but Santiago Muñoz got in the way of the Mexican attacker better positioned and ruined the cross. Desperation started setting in as Puerto Rico sat back well. Mexico kept trying, but Puerto Rico had a good game plan and had a clear advantage in the coaching as Marco Velez had better plan than Marco Antonio Ruiz. Mexico kept depending on the individual talents of Luis Martinez on the wing and it became repetitive and easy for Mexico to defend. Off a free kick, Jesus Gomez, took it wonderfully to tie the game 1-1. The halftime whistle blew with Mexico playing their worst 45 minutes of the tournament in precisely the least opportune time.
The second half of the game started with Efrain Alvarez getting subbed in. After a great combination play, Bryan Gonzalez had a good chance, but his shot went over the crossbar. Mexico had a great chance when Israel Luna took the keeper out but his shot was saved by a Puerto Rican defender. Off a corner kick, Jesus Gomez had a great chance after being alone in the area but he missed the ball with his kick. Puerto Rico had a shot when once again Lopez was outside the area, but his shot went wide. Lopez was injured on the play and had to leave the game shortly after it. Finally after a great pass, Israel Luna was able to get a great shot and take the lead 2-1. After a corner kick, the ball fell to Bryan Gonzalez but his shot was saved by the keeper. Puerto Rico started to physically falter, and after they had made all three subs a player came out with cramps, leaving them with ten players. Mexican players weren’t far off, with Luna also suffering with cramps. Fortunately Mexico had a substitution and Leonardo Correa came in. Correa came close to scoring when he had a chance that the defender stopped. Eugenio Pizzuto stole a ball and had a good shot that Mercado saved. Mexico then started making time and not taking advantage to the fact that Puerto Rico was totally out of it physically. Mexico held on to win 2-1 with by far the worst performance from them in the tournament against a limited but very well coached Puerto Rican team.
While Mexico had improved as the tournament continued, today they had a huge backward step in giving their worst performance so far in the competition. A lot of doubts started to appear as Mexico looked desperate, with a lack of cohesion of the team as well as lack of ideas. It’s not the first time, in fact it has been kind of a constant that a Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz team falters under adversity. To make matters worse, Mexico failed to take advantage of a Puerto Rican team that faltered badly physically in the second half and images of them making time instead of killing off the game speaks badly about the way the team is coming in into the knockout stages. Mexico might be favored in their Quarterfinal match against El Salvador, but their status has taken a hit especially in the coaching and mental aspects. Mexico will have the benefit of having more opportunities to study El Salvador, a rival who Mexico has had good fortune with before in the youth categories (in a coincidence, Mexico got their ticket for the U20 World against El Salvador also in Bradenton) including Chima Ruiz himself as Coach. Still, Mexico will need to improve a lot and fast if they plan on going to Brazil later this year.