Game three of Tata Martino’s tenure with Mexico left fans feeling jubilant and despondent, worried and unconcerned, somehow all at the same time.
After a surprise goal by Venezuela, Mexico stayed active on the attack and scored three unanswered goals to defeat La Vinotinto in their first friendly ahead of the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Cruz Azul’s Roberto Alvarado scored his first national team goal, Monterrey’s Rodolfo Pizarro scored another during a man-of-the-match worthy performance and captain Andres Guardado scored the third as he made his 153rd cap for El Tri.
After the match, Martino revealed to all his final 23-man squad for the Gold Cup. Midfielders Marco Fabian (ankle) and Ivan Rodriguez (ankle), who would’ve had his first national team call up, were left out after not recovering from their respective injuries. Chivas goalkeeper Raul Gudiño was also left out and LA Galaxy forward Uriel Antuna was left in limbo after Club America’s Edson Alvarez hobbled off the field in the first half.
“If Edson goes, Uriel (Antuna) doesn’t. If Edson can’t, Uriel joins.” - Tata Martino in post-match press conference.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but Mexico attacked well, had players who impressed and continued to look like an organized side with a clear idea of how they want to play despite any circumstances. Here are five observations from the match:
1. The commitment is there, it’s still there
The biggest headline coming into this friendly was the lack of starpower on Mexico’s roster. In addition to unfortunate injuries to Miguel Layun and Hirving Lozano and U-20 World Cup participation by Diego Lainez, some of Mexico’s elite during the past two World Cup cycles chose not to be called up.
Whether it was due to a legitimate reason, more loyalty to their club, wanting to let younger players shine or simply not wanting to be a part of another World Cup cycle that could possibly end in failure, whose to say? Fans, however, were rightfully a little worried and questioned if many of those players still felt a commitment to the national team and to their country. Some wondered if they weren’t the only ones.
Then, around the 30th minute, Edson Alvarez overstretched his leg in an awkward position. He stayed down for while, limped off the field, tried to come back, but was subbed out minutes later with tears in his eyes.
He was coming off an injury that kept him out of the liguilla with America, sure, but those tears looked like they were for more than his health. His emotions showed fans that the players here are committed. They’re just as committed as Mexican national team players have been for years, maybe even more so. It might be time for everyone to stop focusing on who’s not here and focus on who is, because who is could potentially make more of a long-term impact than who isn’t.
Alvarez’s injury had the potential to really hurt Mexico. On the one hand, Antuna deserves a place and having him on the squad would be a huge help on the wings, but Alvarez was set to be one of Mexico’s ironmen in the Gold Cup. After all, he’s the only player to have started in all three of Martino’s lineups so far; the only one whose starting spot was never once in doubt under Tata.
“We need to run some tests, check on (Alvarez) a little more...we don’t know what’s going to happen with Edson...if something negative occurs then we open the doors to another player but even with this I don’t stop deeply lamenting the fact that Edson may not be here.” - Tata Martino in post-match press conference.
In the end, it looks as if Alvarez is going to be healthy for the Gold Cup. After his lackluster performance and visible heartbreak after the Sweden game at last year’s World Cup, Alvarez is due for a special moment with the national team. Hopefully, he gets it this summer.
2. Early signs of Martino’s influence
Even after Venezuela’s stunning goal, which had enough elements of both skill and luck to suck the life out of any team’s attack, Mexico didn’t stop. Something longtime watchers may not be used to, El Tri continued to press Venezuela and play an entertaining brand of attacking football, one Martino heavily used in that same stadium a year ago with Atlanta United.
In Martino’s United, wingers were key. Whether it was Miguel Almiron, Darlington Nagbe, Hector Villalba, etc. Atlanta’s wingers were always deadly.
In this game, we also saw the standouts being the players on the wings. Alvarado and Pizarro both scored—Pizarro doing so after knowing he was going to be subbed off— and looked dangerous with their creative dribbling and ability to get into space and create their own plays. Even the fullbacks, Fernando Navarro and Jesus Gallardo, contributed immensly. Gallardo assisted in Pizarro’s goal.
That was Alvarado with the spin, by the way. Too nice.
Even America’s Jorge Sanchez, who came on as a sub late in the second half, was making good decisions in his limited moments.
6: Good play here by Jorge. Receives the ball and instead of sending a low % pass over the top, he finds Antuna and makes a run. The play didn't work out in a goal, but it's a hustle smart play and threatens more than continuous empty crossing (aka Chepo ball 2013). pic.twitter.com/rMU0BCBJsj— Bryan Wäshkewícz (@BryanRMW) June 6, 2019
Players are also responding positively to Martino’s early tactics:
“(With Martino) the player from the Mexican league and the one from Europe both have the same opportunities, something that did not happen in the previous cycle.” - Rodolfo Pizarro
“I like a lot what (Tata) is doing. That is the way.” - Jonathan Orozco
3. Can Mexico replace Ochoa anytime soon?
I’ll answer this one for you: Nope. It’s not looking that way, at least.
If there’s one position where depth was never a problem for Mexico, it’s the goalkeeper. Mexico is currently blessed with one of the greatest Mexican keepers in Guillermo Ochoa. I don’t even have to tell you why. You already know who he is and what he’s done. But what, or better said, who comes after him?
Santos Laguna’s Jonathan Orozco was one of the weakest links on the field against Venezuela. He was never going to save that first goal, but he was caught out of position a lot, including then, and his reactions were very much delayed or nonexistent.
¡¡GOOOOLAAAAZOOOOO AZOOOOO AZOOOOO!! Murillo con un Riflazo sorprende al arquero y la manda a guardar en el fondo de las redes@Miseleccionmx 0-1 @SeleVinotinto— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) June 6, 2019
Disfruta EN VIVO https://t.co/PtY1LBxKSM pic.twitter.com/fjVDzuVzBr
¡Se salva México! El poste le dice que no a un cabezazo de Herrera y Rondón no puede rematar cómodamente el rebote@Miseleccionmx 1-1 @SeleVinotinto— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) June 6, 2019
Disfruta EN VIVO https://t.co/PtY1LBxKSM pic.twitter.com/EgHbvhRz1r
Beyond Orozco, Jesus Corona and Alfredo Talavera will not be returning to the national team due to their advanced age.
That leaves four youngsters: Tijuana’s Gibran Lajud had a poor performance in his Mexico debut against Costa Rica last year, while Gudiño and Necaxa’s Hugo Gonzalez have also not yet shown they can be a long-term option. Veracruz’s Sebastian Jurado hasn’t received his national team shot yet, and hope is there for the 21-year-old currently with Mexico’s U-22 squad at the Toulon tournament.
One thing is clear: Mexico hasn’t found an always-dependable replacement for Ochoa yet. It’s fine now as Ochoa’s still at the top of his game, but he’s not getting any younger.
4. Improvements to be made
As mentioned before, Mexico didn’t have a perfect game. Due to the high press, Venezuela caught Mexico lacking at the back several times, although Mexico’s defenders were keen to correct any mistakes made.
El Tri also struggled to break through Venezuela’s defensive line a lot and didn’t have many shots from outside the box land on target. For a team that dominated possession that game, and almost every game since Tata has been in charge, the assumption is that isn’t the plan.
Two of Mexico’s goals came from either a defensive error or a counterattack after a corner. They were beautiful goals, but one has to think Mexico can’t always expect to get them this way.
5. Martino’s coaching staff celebrations are adorable
Tata is the epitome of “If I eat, we all gonna eat”. Your national team’s coaching staff could never be this gif-able.
What else did you notice? Let us know in the comments below!
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