One step backward, two steps forward

Posted by Andrea Canales

Oddly enough, Mexico's latest game, a 3-1 win against Martinique in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, gave added ammunition to supporters and detractors alike, since it was a combination of the best and worst yet seen from the squad.

The good included a definitive golazo from midfielder Luis Montes, who cracked an outside line drive of a shot that left Martinique goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa with no chance. It was a goal not only of talent and skill, but of initiative and daring, which is exactly what Mexico has lacked for months.

Another positive aspect has been the reliability of Marco Fabian to bring something positive to the team. In three Gold Cup matches, Fabian has scored in every match. His goal against Martinique was the opening strike. He was trailing the play, and when Olimpa saved the initial attempt by Rafael Marquez Lugo, Fabian knocked in the rebound, though the high bounce that eluded Olimpa's grasp could have been the result partly of a slight mis-hit. But whether he is that good, or a little lucky, Fabian has delivered consistently this tournament.

It also generates hope in the squad to see the sheer number of chances created by Mexico. Miguel Layun sent in cross after cross to his teammates, giving them perfect finishing opportunities. Miguel Ponce, who entered the match in the 88th minute, scored the final goal in the 90th by making good on a Layun pass.

Despite Layun's quality crosses, he is still at the top of the list of the bad displayed by El Tri for the poor foul in the box that let to Martinique's penalty goal, putting the Caribbean squad within one goal of an equalizer for the majority of the match. In general, Layun's defending was atrocious throughout the match, with mistimed, lunging tackles, indifferent positioning and a clear lack of speed when chasing attackers.

In a different way, Layun was also part of another head-scratching El Tri aspect: His service into the box was so good, so often, that when another botched finish was the result time and again, it was simply depressing. Granted, Olimpa had some quality saves, but far more often, he wasn't even tested.

Another bad moment was when goalkeeper Miguel Munoz, entrusted with a match that would have eliminated El Tri if it had been lost, had a complete brain cramp moment in which he left his box to apparently try to shepherd a ball safely over the line for a goal kick. Instead, he allowed a Martinique player to rob him off the ball. Only a deflected pass saved Mexico from disaster.

With the penalty concession coming just before the half, Mexico should have charged out of the locker room eager to reassert its dominance and to put the potential elimination game on ice. Instead, the squad fell back into bad habits of aimless passing, frustrated solo runs that ignored open teammates, and an inexplicable lack of energy and urgency.

Though his scowl deepened on the sideline, coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre didn't really make assertive moves to stop the negative slide. Ponce, for example, wasn't put on the field in place of Marco Fabian until very late.

De la Torre also risked a serious injury to midfielder Efrain Velarde by not pulling him out of the match when he knocked heads hard with a Martinique player. Velarde was bleeding and seemed dazed, but since he was a sub, de la Torre sent him right back into the game after a quick patch on the wound. A more cautious move would have been to replace him immediately.

Though de la Torre's players gave Martinique opportunities to steal the match, in the end it didn't happen. Mexico pulled out the win. El Tri moves on now to the elimination stage of the Gold Cup, but unless the team finds a way to minimize mistakes and weaknesses, Mexico remains its own worst enemy. The knockout phase of any tournament is not kind to such teams.

ESPN Conversations