LOS ANGELES, CA. –If friendlies were measured by the result on the scoreboard, Mexico’s summer of soccer did not get off to the most favorable of starts. Luckily for Juan Carlos Osorio and the rest of the Mexico squad, though, Mexico’s 2-1 loss to Croatia will serve as a much better barometer for what Mexico is than what Mexico aspires to be.
Aspiration: to be a team that can go 20 players deep.
Reality: Mexico is a team that only goes 14-15 deep. The sooner Juan Carlos Osorio realizes that, the better Mexico’s summer of soccer will go.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s tenure has been buttressed by 2 inescapable truths: Mexico has won a lot of games against inferior opponents, and the coach has yet to repeat a line up in consecutive games. They are mutually exclusive. Mexico has not won games because they are so deep, that the Colombian coach can trot out any ol’ starting XI from a pool of 40 players. The rotations are also not a direct result of Mexico’s success. Each are a vector traveling in their own direction, where they occasionally intersect.
They crossed paths Saturday in an impossibly perfect afternoon in the LA Coliseum. Croatia, who was making their North American debut, fielded a mainly alternate side, one infinitely inferior to the one that played Mexico 3 years earlier in Recife. Mexico, once again, trotted out a different lineup – some players were making their first starts in the Osorio era. A few regulars, the two Hectors, Diego Reyes, and Memo Ochoa, anchored a mainly alternate side. They started well, a lot of off the ball movement, quick to retake possession and maintain it – it was what was expected. Unfortunately, so was Mexico’s historical issue with finishing.
Despite being limited, it did not take Croatia long to figure out Mexico’s neuroses in front of net. They clamped down and waited for their opponents to make the unforced error. They got two big ones in a span of a minute and scored twice, much to the delight of the checkered faithful that made up a pretty good chunk of the north side stands. Mexico, for all its possession, only managed 2 shots – none on goal – in the first half. Mexico’s wingers were looking
The second half saw Mexico bring in some reinforcements: Andres Guardado and Jonathan Dos Santos started the second half, and it was no coincidence that Mexico started to make the game completely one sided. Carlos Vela came on 15 minutes later, and Javier Hernandez a little after that. The offense changed completely. Players were looking to shoot, not pass. They should have shot more, as the Croatian goalie, Lovre Kalinic, was having a major problem with the sun in his eyes. The statsheet showed a major disparity in shots from the 1st half to the 2nd : In the end, the tally was 19 shots – 12 on goal.
The difference was big, but not nearly as big as the gulf that separates Mexico’s starting XI from the rest of the squad. In other words, the time for rotating starters should come to its merciful end. There are very few national teams in the world where players 12-22 are as nearly as good as 1-11.
Mexico is not one of those teams. Mexico’s limit, as we discussed earlier, is 14-15 players. Don’t believe me? Okay, fair enough. I do have a 1 word retort for you: Fortaleza.
When one considers the next 3 official matches that Mexico will be playing: Honduras, USA, and Portugal, does it make sense to sit Carlos Vela or Javier Hernandez or Jonathan Dos Santos for any of these 3 games? Or any of Mexico’s best XI?
Juan Carlos Osorio paid dearly for his personnel philosophy last summer in the Copa America Centenario. I think we all remember how that ended.
Rotations are expected during friendlies. But Mexico has a lot more to play for than just the Confed Cup and WCQ. Remember, the FIFA rankings determine the remaining 7 group seeds for the World Cup. Any points dropped, regardless of opponent, hurt Mexico’s chances of getting one of those seeds.
So for now, let’s focus on getting the best 14-15 players some facetime with each other. Look for players 16-23 when the berth (and possible seed) is locked up. There will be plenty of friendlies scheduled for that. I promise.