Only on Saturday, Mexico escaped its quarterfinal against Costa Rica with a slim win in penalties. But it also garnered many questions for the first time, including those directed at manager Gerardo Martino. “Why wait to make a change in the lineup until the 80th minute?” is probably the most prominent of them.
But Saturday’s game against Costa Rica provided something else for the first time under Gerardo Martino–a formula by which teams could significantly hurt El Tri in defense. In their penalty defeat to El Tri, Costa Rica managed to drag Jonathan Dos Santos and Edson Alvarez out of position, or into situations where they had fewer options moving forward while breaking communication with their defender. That made the passing from Costa Rica’s midfield up to Joel Campbell, Mayron George, Keysher Fuller, Celso Borges, and others easy and opened up opportunities for many to make chances on 1 vs 1 duels too close to Guillermo Ochoa’s goal.
More troublesomely, El Tri failed to maintain their sense of passing angles and circulation in the interior of the attack and returned to the mostly vertical buildup approach that was so common for the side under “Piojo” Herrera, “Tuca” Ferretti, and Juan Carlos Osorio that made the side predictable. That sense of worry has to be an underlying timbre of El Tri‘s training for an unfamiliar opponent on Tuesday.
El Tri has only ever their semifinal opponent–Les Grenadiers of Haiti–on nine previous occasions and none since 2009’s Gold Cup. El Tri still has a historical obligation to defeat the Caribbean side in Tuesday’s semifinal, losing only once in those nine previous meetings and carrying the obligation of Gold Cup trophies that the shirt of the bandera brings.
There are also a couple of other things working against El Tri, their inability to maintain what they had learned under Gerardo Martino will be complicated by Martino’s touchline ban–preventing him from counter-adjusting to what Haiti under Martinique-born manager Marc Collat might be instructing his team to do. And the side also faces injury questions as both Jonathan Dos Santos and Andres Guardado missed parts of training due to injury.
To get to the semifinal point, the furthest Les Grenadiers have ever gone in Gold Cup competition, Collat adjusted his side to pressure Canada in its buildup, focusing on 21-year-old Scotland-based defender Marcus Godinho as the point in which to execute the turnover and transition in its 3-2 win over the Reds in its quarterfinal.’
The things that El Tri needs to do well to sink Les Grenadiers already might be things that Martino or a club manager could not teach—deception and a recognition when to hurt a defense that’s prone to lapses in concentration as Haiti’s had shown against Canada for about 35 minutes.
But Martino, in his press conference, talked publicly about his instructions regarding Guillermo Ochoa in his side’s pre-match press conference on Monday.
“There wasn’t much for [me to do]. His status outside the field like [Andres] Guardado and Hector [Moreno] is known. He’s a player that makes it simple for any coach,” Martino explained.
Whether or not Ochoa’s professionalism and understanding will be required to what degree for Mexico to advance one step closer to the Gold Cup trophy, the story of the match kicks off at 10:30 PM Eastern DST (UTC -4) and 8:30 PM local time (UTC -6). The match can be seen in the United States on FS1, Univision, and UDN.