Plenty riding on El Tri's quarterfinal

Posted by Andrea Canales

Unlike the media, the draw has been kind to Mexico in the Gold Cup, where the team has advanced out of group play to meet Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday.

Granted, Mexico is clearly not what it once was, but it has traditionally dominated the Caribbean nation. The history alone intimidates -- Mexico is 11-3-3 all time versus T&T -- and it will take some nerve on the part of the island players to push past that psychological barrier.

It's not as if the Soca Warriors will simply lie down for El Tri, but even when Mexico is playing far from its best, teams are generally wary of attacking full-force. The individual talent of Mexico still commands respect, though the squad is struggling to be effective as a whole. This has allowed Mexico to remain the protagonist. Teams generally sit back and eventually El Tri solve the problem of how to put the ball into the net.

The pressure and expectations on Mexico are huge compared to those on Trinidad and Tobago, however. That factors into the game as well. Since anything can happen in a knockout match, T&T may be primed to pull off an upset over Mexico. Most of the criticism is focused on coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, who recently had to explicitly state that his job as a coach is to get good results. The reminder was needed because Mexico's results have often not been good of late.

It's a strange scenario that makes the Gold Cup de la Torre's potential death knell. It wasn't supposed to be anything more than a relaxed scouting trip for him. He wasn't even registered as the squad's main coach. But the results have been so poor in 2013 that de la Torre has felt obliged to prove himself again.

Another Gold Cup championship may be all that saves de la Torre from getting fired as soon as Mexico's run ends. That makes every match a must-win on a personal level for the embattled coach. For Trinidad and Tobago to play the spoilers, they must work to disrupt Mexico's rhythm and passing play.

Rule changes in this edition of the Gold Cup allowed squads to make roster changes after the group stage. Kevan George was the single player T&T called in, replacing Khaleem Hyland, while Mexico made a change of its own. Due to injury, Darvin Chavez was replaced by midfielder Jose Maria Cardenas.

Under coach Stephen Hart, Trinidad and Tobago has developed a defensive backbone the team previously lacked. The taller players on the squad are a considerable threat on set pieces. Speedy counter-attacks are also a danger that Mexico will have to guard against.

Though Mexico hasn't looked good in its previous three games, there have been some bright spots in this Gold Cup. Marco Fabian is on a scoring roll. Raul Jimenez now wants to add to his international goals total, and so does Luis Montes. While Miguel Layun continues to be a defensive liability, he does send in lovely crosses when attacking up the wing, so his contribution can probably be considered as positive overall. Goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco has proven to be more solid in goal than Moises Munoz, so he will probably get the nod now that the tournament has reached the elimination stages.

For Trinidad and Tobago, a win over Mexico in a match that really matters would be a major notch of achievement. For Mexico, a victory over T&T is the least that's expected of a squad which is counted on to show more style and decisive play than it has all throughout the competition. In other words, the Caribbean country has much to gain, but Mexico has more to lose, including, perhaps, its coach.


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