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Uriel Antuna’s meteoric rise that almost didn’t happen, Guardado’s growing legacy and more

Mexico is off to a great start in Gold Cup play and El Tri’s 3-1 win against Canada gave us plenty to discuss.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Mexico at Cuba Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Mexico kept the goals coming in its second group stage game of the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup after putting three past Canada in a 3-1 win on June 19 in Denver.

That’s six games played and won for Gerardo Tata Martino in his Mexico career and his attack-minded playing style is becoming embedded in Mexico’s DNA as El Tri has not failed to score at least three goals in every single game in the Martino era.

As the goals come, so do surprise performances, and unfortunately, talks of injuries, as that’s become just as commonplace so far during Tata’s tenure. Here are the talking points from Mexico vs. Canada.

Antuna Announces Himself Onto the International Stage

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Mexico at Cuba Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

And to think Manchester City loanee and current LA Galaxy forward Uriel Antuna was about to miss the Gold Cup altogether. When Edson Alvarez went down in a friendly against Venezuela, Martino was adamant that should Alvarez not continue with the squad, to much of his dismay, Antuna would have a place. Alvarez eventually recovered, but then Hector Moreno went down against Ecuador, and Antuna was in limbo again. After everything, he ended up getting on the 23-man squad thanks to an injury to Jorge Sanchez in the same game against Ecuador.

He was dangerously close to not making the squad and had to wait for three separate injury reports to develop before he found out if he was worthy. But as we know now, he most definitely was. Antuna scored a hat-trick in Mexico’s Gold Cup opener vs. Cuba and now has more international goals than club ones.

“Truthfully, I don’t ever wish harm on anybody. The ones that have gotten injured, unfortunately, those that things that happen in soccer. Now my opportunity has come and, to be honest, I’m taking full advantage of it.” - Uriel Antuna.

Against Canada, Antuna was their backline’s nightmare, constantly pressing forward with pace and agility as he consistently was getting past his man down that right wing. He’s most certainly taken advantage of his opportunities and fans and analysts alike already are anxious to see what he does against bigger competition.

The 21-year-old Santos Laguna product has now participated in 26% of the 23 goals in the Martino era, with three goals and three assists. He also had, get this, 100% passing accuracy against Canada. Did you get that? 100 percent. All of them. 20 for 20. For an attacking player, who more often than not has to make risky passes in the final third of the pitch surrounded by opposing defenders, that’s beyond impressive.

“I’ve talked to [Martino] a bit. He says he’s happy [with me] and to just keep doing what I’m doing.” - Uriel Antuna

He also did *this* to Canada’s wonder boy, FC Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, before assisting Guardado for the third goal of the match.

If you don’t know, for context, Davies is Canada’s equivalent of Christian Pulisic or Diego Lainez. But as we all know, soccer is a cruel sport, and all the hype in the world cannot protect you from, well, that.

Aye, Aye Captain

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup-Mexico at Canada Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn’t for yet another ill-timed injury, this time to Erick Gutierrez, Mexico’s first-choice captain Andres Guardado wouldn’t have had as many minutes in Wednesday’s game. Guardado is at a point in his career when coming off the bench will more regularly be treated as normal, almost expected, but don’t think that means he has nothing left to give.

”I’m not going to add anything to his career, to the excellent captain he is, to his path, to what he offers to the Mexican National Team on and off the field.” - Gerardo Martino

The game against Canada saw Guardado score twice, including a brilliant power shot from 20+ yards out, which fans have become accustomed to celebrating. He’s quickly rising on Mexico’s all-time appearances list, currently second with 156 caps only behind Claudio Suarez’s 177. Against Canada, he achieved the most Gold Cup matches played by a Mexico player (20) as well as the most goals (10).

There’s a chance he’ll still play in another Gold Cup in 2021 as well as make the trip to Qatar, but after that, his career will most certainly hit its twilight. But even with the short timetable, Guardado continues to give it all for Mexico. He hasn’t had a summer off since 2012 and the captain’s still giving orders and inspiring the youth.

“It seems to me that he has such a competitive gene, that in no case does it occur to me that in his head he is leaving before finishing this process.” - Gerardo Martino

“To play with him is a privilege and it’s a childhood dream, you see them on TV and now you’re playing right next to him.” - Uriel Antuna

Injury Updates:

Soccer: Venezuela at Mexico
Monterrey’s Rodolfo Pizarro is one of the latest names to be added to a long injury list this summer.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As previously mentioned, Mexico’s Gutierrez went down in the first half against Canada clutching the back part of his right thigh. That marked the seventh injury in Martino’s Gold Cup camp and the eleventh player that has gone down injured for El Tri in the past few months.

Hector Moreno (leg) - Almost ready to train

Rodolfo Pizarro (unknown) - Hasn’t felt 100 percent. With the group, but hasn’t felt confident enough to play.

Carlos Salcedo (muscle overload) - Exited the Cuba game in the 77th minute. Did not play against Canada to prevent injury.

Erick Gutierrez (right thigh) - left the hotel in the morning to get an MRI on the back of his right thigh. Will know results in the afternoon.

You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__