ARLINGTON, Texas — The United States and Mexico men’s national teams are trending in opposite directions heading into the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
There are some similarities. Both nations have new head coaches coming from Major League Soccer in Gregg Berhalter and Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who are each attempting to implement their respective styles for their teams.
Both nations have been without key players during the Gold Cup tuneups, with Mexico missing stars such as LAFC midfielder Carlos Vela and West Ham forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. The United States did not have the services of Red Bull Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams and Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic in recent games, but they are available for the Gold Cup.
That’s where the resemblances end.
The United States fell to Venezuela 3-0 Sunday after a disappointing first half that saw the Americans look dazed and confused. It was the same Venezuela team that Mexico defeated 3-1 on June 5. Instead of going into a crucial tournament on a much-needed high after the devastating failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. enters on a low, with plenty of questions being asked of Berhalter and his men.
Meanwhile, El Tri is coming off its fourth straight win under Martino, finding ways to win even with a more rotated and experimental side. It showed in the team’s 3-2 victory over Ecuador. A strong performance from Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Jonathan dos Santos helped the team secure a victory late on at AT&T Stadium.
A compact and disciplined Ecuador side forced Mexico to feel out its opponent, not allowing the quick, dynamic play teams under Martino usually demonstrate. Instead, the team built from the back and recycled, hoping to make Ecuador crack. It opened up in the 28th minute, with dos Santos making a driving run at the heart of the defense. Instead of passing the ball, dos Santos was given room to hit a curling effort past Máximo Banguera. Martino complimented dos Santos’ play, calling him the best player on the field in the postgame press conference.
Finding A Way
Ecuador put up a valiant effort, answering Mexico multiple times throughout the match. Ángel Mena equalized early in the second half with a free kick that deflected off Mexico defender César Montes and past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Mexico midfielder Luis Montes responded with a splendid free kick of his own from just outside the 18, hitting his shot with pace into the upper corner in the 63rd minute. Only three minutes later, Ecuadorian winger Eduar Preciado beat Mexico defender Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez to the ball off a corner to tie the game again.
As Martino’s team did all match, it pushed ahead. In the 77th minute, substitute Rodolfo Pizarro found fullback Jesús Gallardo on the wing. Gallardo played a cross to Rodríguez, who was free in space. Rodríguez hit the ball on the volley near post, beating Banguera once again, to give El Tri the 3-2 lead for good.
Martino’s men found a way to win. The jumbled lineup was not used as an excuse, but instead showed that Mexico has plenty of depth going into the Gold Cup, even without many key players.
“It’s a good thing Tata has made,” centerback Carlos Saucedo said. “No player has his spot earned, and I think we have to compete every day to see who is going to be the starter, and after that, with all the passion we’ve put into these last few games, we have to manage the same thing in an official competition.”
The United States can learn a lot from watching Mexico. El Tri should be considered the overwhelming favorites going into the Gold Cup, which begins on Saturday, June 15 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. There, Mexico will take on Cuba and look to kick off a title run after a disappointing 2017 tournament that ended with a semifinal loss to Jamaica.
While it was not always pretty for Mexico, the team’s confidence will be up, especially after seeing the U.S. picked apart by a team that El Tri defeated only days ago.
“We’re confident in the players who are adapting quickly to a style of play, that we might be a completive team with one or another side, because when we talk about national team players, we’re talking about the most important players in a country,” Martino said. “There shouldn’t be that much difference between some players and others, even though it’s true that in some case you see the difference. We need everyone to have confidence and think they can be in the team.”