As they did in the Gold Cup final, Mexico kept some gas in the tank but still were able to roll past their biggest Concacaf rival
And this was supposed to be the B team.
Tata Martino would never call it that, and some of his best took part in a 3-0 cruise past the United States on Friday. Yet, Mexico is keeping plenty in reserve. Hirving Lozano came on for a cameo that delighted the pro-Mexico crowd, assisting Uriel Antuna for the third goal in a game that never felt that close. Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno started.
Otherwise? The focus for Martino is on Tuesday when Mexico will face his native Argentina, a game he views as a more difficult challenge for his squad.
He’s right to see it that way. Mexico rolled through the United States on Friday night. Its relentless pressure, helped on by the high work rate of all-time leading score Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and suffocating steps forward from midfielders Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera, suffocated the Americans in the first half. There was no exit from the back, and when Mexico got the ball it quickly created scoring chances.
“If that’s the B national team and we won 3-0 against the United States, I think that’s a good national team,” goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco said after the match. “For me, there’s no A or B. I represent my country. That’s the most important thing for me. When I put on the badge, the most important thing is just to represent my country well. You can call it what you want to call it, but for me it’s about working hard, doing things well and taking care of what we need to do.”
It’s not a revelation but rather a reinforcement of something we already felt we knew. When Mexico won the Gold Cup without Lozano, Herrera, Chicharito, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, or Miguel Layun, we saw a somewhat depleted El Tri team still become the continental champion. Friday’s blowout only increased the sense that even a “Mexico B team” can hang with their biggest Concacaf rivals’ best (while John Brooks and Tyler Adams would strengthen the United States, it’s tough to imagine they would’ve made that much of a difference in this contest).
Perhaps it’s a bit disingenuous to say Herrera and Corona are part of the lesser group. Yet, that’s how Martino sees them, with both players in their first camp under the Argentine manager. Herrera played well in the middle of the three-man midfield, where he’s struggled in the past, and Corona turned the United States’ outside backs inside-out and outside-in, assisting the opener with a stunning bit of skill and showing why he’s such an intriguing addition to Martino’s group .
Either one could easily be part of Mexico’s best XI. The talent that didn’t take part – Wolves forward Raul Jimenez, Lozano, Ajax midfielder Edson Alvarez, Tigres center back Carlos Salcedo, America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa – also is plenty impressive.
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Not only is Mexico playing well, it’s getting better. That was Martino’s biggest takeaway from the contest. His players are better understanding how the press works. When the press gets broken players are making the right moves to recover. They’re making good decisions when they’re on the ball. Those are signs of progress.
“I think the good of all this is that every time we get together the team shows some level of growth,” he said after the match. “You don’t win a title in these games, but they do have value in growing in the function, in winning – with players always wanting to keep the mood high, to not lose.
“We need the team shows positive direction toward how we play in every game. I think up to today, that’s happening.”
It’s happening all throughout the squad. Even the deep reserves on this 31-man squad Martino brought for this pair of friendly matches, players like Uriel Antuna, look crisper and more comfortable than their American counterparts. It doesn’t hurt, though, that Antuna is getting picture-perfect setups from Lozano. However, when the United States’ best player, Christian Pulisic, went on a winding run past several Mexican defenders, he found no further assistance from his teammates in completing the play.
The icing on the cake was a penalty save from Mexico’s No. 2 goalkeeper Orozco, who denied Josh Sargant’s 88th minute penalty kick. It was a picture of where this rivalry is at the moment. Mexico’s second-best are more poised, understand better what they have to do and execute better than a U.S. team that has promise but simply isn’t there yet.
Maybe it will change sometime in the next World Cup cycle. For now? El Tri continue to be the undisputed kings of Concacaf. Martino putting the focus on the game against Argentina is understandable. He wants to show Mexico’s focus should be wide. Concacaf has been conquered. Now his team can look to become kings of the Americas.