When the Gold Cup schedule first made an appearance, it seemed to be leading the same direction as so many in years past. The US team would be on one side of the bracket and Mexico on the other. Their meeting in the final a fait accompli. These things have a way of working out ... as it is by design.
Amazingly this is still in play for the final. Neither team has displayed their best form in the group stage. Luckily for each, it doesn’t really matter in the Gold Cup.
The US had flashes of solid play but nothing approaching consistency. Despite this, they still finished at the top of their group with what should be a simple quarterfinal in front of them. Form doesn’t matter.
On the surface, picking apart a team that took a 6-0 victory in their first match could be seen as frivolous. However, if anything could be gleaned from the early days of this tournament, it is that matches against Cuba are hardly matches. I’m not sure if it is ever fair to label a dominant win unimpressive, but I’ll be dispensing with fairness for a moment. If Mexico had the ability to score with any level of competency, Mexico’s tally should have been in the double figures. This is irrelevant. I acknowledge that.
It’s hard to ignore the similar display in the Guatemala match. Guatemala was more than happy to cede control of the game to Mexico. El Tri retained possession and moved the ball with methodical precision. They also rarely threatened to break the 0-0 deadlock. This would be one of those matches that could be shoved to the back recesses of the mind. You could push off the red flags and ugly score with thoughts of uncalled penalties and near chances. You could do that, if you haven’t watched this team play in 2015.
Their play is slow and stagnant. Teams that want to lock down the Mexican attack do so with relative ease. The Copa America was excused understandably. That roster was weak and facing tough competition. The Gold Cup has no such excuses.
The recent friendlies leading to this tournament did nothing to alleviate any concerns. In fact, with sustained injuries to Hector Moreno and Chicharito, they’ve only served to weaken the team in key positions. Yet, looking back even further, this similar trend for Mexico continues. When Mexico enters a match as a clear favorite, the result is facsimile. Mexico piles on possession with nothing to show for it. They are unable to break down well organized defenses and show no ability to score. These aren’t bad breaks and missed opportunities. It’s a trend.
Miguel Herrera is clearly under fire for his decisions, and there is plenty to justify the criticism. His player selection and where he places them has left room for debate. Hector Herrera is not being used correctly. Paul Aguilar is still on the field. The Dos Santos brothers never seem to get enough minutes. There are issues. There is also a clear pattern of players simply not playing to their potential.
Even if the tactical approach isn’t always ideally suited to the opponent, talent often has a way of winning out. I don’t mean to undermine the role of the manager. I believe a sound approach from inferior talent could take down anyone’s all-star squad.
It just only takes one moment of magnificence to undermine that slow and steady defense. Where are those moments from this talent-rich Mexico team? Where is that great run or killer shot? Where is that perfectly placed lead in?
Herrera could and should do better – as with any manager who isn’t getting the results. Yet, we should still be seeing more from those actually on the field.
Then again, it’s also possible that none of this matters. Mexico plays Trinidad and Tobago tonight for the chance to win Group C. A victory will see them play Panama in the quarterfinals. A draw or loss will keep them on the same side of the bracket, but with a quarterfinal opponent of the equally under-performing Costa Rica.
The truth of the matter is that Mexico can continue their woeful ways and still meet their US rivals in the final. They can’t score, but perhaps neither can their opposition. Some things were just meant to be.
** image used under a Creative Commons license from Daniel Go