ARLINGTON, Texas — Sunday’s international friendly between Mexico and Ecuador at AT&T Stadium, the final tune-up for El Tri before the start of the 2019 Gold Cup, held one surprising pairing that pleased LA Galaxy fans — Uriel Antuna, just four days after getting his first international cap as a sub, joining Jonathan dos Santos in the El Tri starting lineup.
It would be dos Santos ultimately winning Man of the Match honors, largely on the strength of his 28th-minute shot-from-distance to open the scoring in Mexico’s 3-2 win. But Antuna, playing ahead of dos Santos on the right flank of a 4-3-3 formation, had some good lively moments throughout his nearly 72 minutes of action, putting in crosses, hustling for balls that found their way to the final third, and doing his part to trouble Ecuador keeper Maximo Banguera.
In a post-match press conference where he lauded dos Santos’s contributions, Mexico manager Tata Martino had more mixed reviews for Antuna. While he noted that Antuna “he ran a lot and showed a lot of intensity” in his first El Tri start, he also expressed that he was expecting even more from the Santos Laguna Academy player in his debut start. But Martino did make a point to laud the effort Antuna put into his shift — which, at worst, gives the squad an energy sub option for the upcoming tournament.
Antuna, the Manchester City loanee who has started all 16 matches to date in the Galaxy’s 2019 campaign, joined the squad as an injury replacement for Edson Alvarez after the initial, final Gold Cup roster was announced. Antuna joined the El Tri squad last Wednesday as a precautionary squad addition, saw Alvarez go off with an injury, came on as a second-half sub for his senior debut, and contributed an assist in the 3-1 win.
With LAFC star Carlos Vela opting to stay in the MLS Cup hunt during the Gold Cup, dos Santos and Antuna are the sole MLS representatives in a team that relies heavily on Liga MX talent. Though striker Raul Jimenez (Wolves) and team captain Andres Guardado (Real Betis) are key Gold Cup players with European seasoning, Sunday’s other two goal scorers — Leon midfielder Luis Montes, who curled in a wicked free kick to retake the lead, and Tigres right back Luis Rodriguez, who poached a far-post winner on a cross from Monterrey left back Jesus Gallardo — are two of 15 Liga MX players on the 23-man roster.
But, if the last two matches are any indication, dos Santos and Antuna should figure into however deep a run Mexico might make — up to and including dethroning the MLS-heavy U.S. squad looking a lot more unsettled in their final tune-up matches.