By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 21, 2018) US Soccer Players - For too long, Mexico has chosen to play friendly matches against lesser teams on American soil. Thus it seemed like a step forward when Mexico headed down to South America to play a pair of friendlies against Argentina. Now that the two games have come and gone, it seems more of a missed and a bit misguided opportunity than anything.
Mexico played, and lost, to Argentina twice in a five-day span, each by 2-0. El Tri is without a permanent head coach, turning these games into nothing more than an exercise for the players. Playing the same team two consecutive times also made things difficult. Ultimately there was little to gain from having gone to Argentina for two matches. In fairness, you could say the same about the previous four friendly matches Mexico played in 2018.
Without a coach, El Tri has been essentially sailing rudderless through stormy seas. While it may be a means to an end, for now the last half of 2018 seems more like an opportunity lost than a step forward following a disappointing World Cup. Mexico has a 1-5-0 record in its post-World Cup schedule. There has been some signs of strength but mostly it has been a futile exercise highlighted by the team’s visit to Argentina.
RESULTS DON’T MATTER BUT…
Wins are not important when playing friendlies. It's better to play well than to get a result. Mexico did neither. Argentina overwhelmed Mexico for 180 minutes and scored on a set piece, a counterattack, and through a great individual effort. Mexico also helped out with an ownpgoal.
Like Mexico, Argentina was missing many of its top players. No Lionel Messi. No Sergio “Kun” Aguero. No Angel Di Maria. Yet Argentina looked like a force against Mexico.
Now, El Tri had its moments. They attacked early in the first game and nearly got a goal. They almost equalized in the second game on a late header by Gallardo. However, for most part Argentina had its way with Mexico. Both teams had the same finish in the World Cup, out in the Round of 16, but the last two matches did not reflect that.
There's still an upside. Mexico learned more from these games than it would have had the games been versus, say, El Salvador in San Diego and Guatemala in Oakland and that is progress. If Mexico can continue to forego the cash-grab friendlies it plays in the United States and heads to the Old World for matchup against strong European teams, then the challenges would continue. Perhaps Mexico can even show well in some of them.
GOODBYE COACH TUCA
The caretaker is back to his club as Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has no coaching ties to the national team anymore. Ferretti is once again behind glass broken open only in case of emergency. Ferretti is the temporary hero for Mexico. He was the one who guided them to the CONCACAF Cup in October 2015. While he did his job as an interim coach, the fact that Mexico needed an interim coach at all was a bit disconcerting. Mexico needed to part ways with Juan Carlos Osorio after the World Cup, and did just that. Not bringing someone in until the end of the year was a bit of a missed opportunity.
Some veteran players like Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez might be at the end of their international careers. The next generation like Raul Jimenez and Erick Gutierrez might be ready to step up and take a more important role on the team. Instead of that process already underway, it will start sometime over the winter at the earliest.
It is the worst-kept secret in North American soccer that Atlanta United manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino will be Mexico’s next head coach. He's still trying to lead Atlanta to an MLS Cup before making the Mexico move official.
Handing the squad over to Ferretti and now likely to Martino, the team will go through another transition. The formation and tactics will certainly change. Players will have to adjust, once more, from one system to the next. Who knows what that will do to the squad. It will take time for the new coach to implement his style.
Mexico’s next major test will be the Gold Cup next summer. El Tri will likely have some friendlies to play between now and then, although nothing is official. The hope for El Tri supporters is the new manager comes in and gets to work, figuring out the job. The new coach can pore over video from the last few months and see what players can perform at the international level. He'll scout Liga MX for any potential new talent. The fruits of the labor will not show until summer 2019 at the earliest.
If the coach settles in for the full World Cup cycle, then perhaps sacrificing the last six games and wasting the time it took to schedule, train for, and play the six matches will be worth it. As of now, the games seem like a wasted exercise. There are too many question marks left hanging with the lack of a permanent head coach to say whether these games are an accurate reflection of progress following a difficult World Cup.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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