Javier Aguirre knows the task at hand. A restless nation and overbearing press make life as El Tri manager almost impossible to cope with. For Aguirre in his second stint on the job after a long and successful run managing in La Liga, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has been a chance to experiment and add depth to the player pool. In a way, this is no different than the United States attitude towards this tournament.
However there are a few key differences. The US, after a successful Confederations Cup run and solid play in CONCACAF qualifying, which sees the Yanks second in Hex basically have a solid 22 which Bob Bradley picks from. Very few spots on the USA”A” team are truly up for grabs.
Mexico, on the other hand has been a mess. Struggling in qualifying (although believe it or not, Mexico could still win the Hex, but that is a subject for another day), and fielding the third coach in 16 months, El Tri’s A” team spots are truly up for grabs.
Take the goalkeeper situation for instance. Memo Ochoa was rushed into playing for Mexico and Club America before he was ready. He made the mistakes any young keeper would make. But Aguirre, showing little faith or willingness to play youngsters brought in 36 year old Oscar Perez who had not been capped in five years to start the last two qualifiers. Osvaldo Sanchez has seen a dip in his form in the last year for both Santos and El Tri, which opened the door for Perez’s return.
Reinforcing his lack of faith in the youngsters, Carlos Vela and Gio Dos Santos were dropped from the starting lineup and relegated to playing on this “B” team in the Gold Cup. Strangely with this youngish team in the Gold Cup, Aguirre brought back Guille Franco, the subject of much controversy in Mexico. Franco, the Argentine native who now plays for Villarreal was along with Gabriel Caballero and Zinha the controversial naturalized players who broke the long standing El Tri tradition of fielding only Mexican born players. Veterans, Gerrado Torrado and Omar Bravo are also on this Gold Cup squad. Miguel Sabah (pictured above) is 29, but only had never been capped before this summer, but now may have pushed his way into the “A” team after this tournament.
Mexico does have a stronger and more internationally experienced team in this Gold Cup than the US does, especially after Steve Cherundolo, Charlie Davies and Benny Feilhaber had to leave the team early. Still, 16 of the 23 players that Aguirre selected for the most recent World Cup qualifiers, are not on this Gold Cup team. But that’s better than Bob Bradley’s dilemma: Only Brian Ching and Heath Pearce were selected for the most recent qualifiers among American players, and Ching was later dropped from the squad due to injury. But Mexico is still incredibly weak at the back, and even when Rafa Marquez plays for their “A” team they get exposed easily by quick, athletic teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and the USA.
Torrado is the key. I have always felt he was an underrated player. Mexico recently has had a lack of “hard men,” something the US never lacks. But Torrado has been good when he’s been called on by the last several Mexican managers and including him in this otherwise experimental Gold Cup squad has held the team together.
Given this disparity in regulars, the Mexican Team can be called a “B team for sure, but the USA team is really a “C” team in a sense and has been described as such in the media. This fact has not been lost on the Mexican press who have said among other things in the last 24 hours, that if Mexico does not win tomorrow, they may never beat the US again on American soil, and that Aguirre’s job needs to be evaluated if El Tri loses to second string Americans.
The truth however is that Mexico has struggled in this tournament. They needed a horrible penalty call to get a late first half goal against a weak Nicaragua side and only got a second late in the match. Against Panama, El Tri was outplayed until red card madness and crowd control became issues. Finally, against a Costa Rica team without Walter Centano and playing on grass, the Ticos went down only after a PK shootout.
The bluster is what we have come to expect from the Mexican press and a great number of their fans, ignorant in world football before a big match. Javier Aguirre will surely ignore them: you don’t get Osusuna into Europe and Athletico Madrid into the Champions League by accident. The Mexican manager knows what he’s doing, and win or lose tomorrow he’s plotting a way for Mexico to become relevant again.