Woeful El Tri can't score, and still can't win in 2013

Posted by Andrea Canales

If once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is carelessness, four times is poor, then five times is - well, it's definitely bad news. Yet that's where El Tri finds itself after a quintet of matches in 2013. It mattered not whether the games were competitive World Cup qualifiers or friendlies. Even against the likes of Denmark or playing an injury-depleted U.S.A in the friendly confines of the famed Azteca Stadium, Mexico could not manage a win. The latest match, a meaningless friendly versus Peru on Wednesday night, was the platform for a comeback. Without the pressure cooker of qualifying, without the disconnect that sometimes comes from integrating European players used to a different style and rhythm, El Tricolor was supposed to be able to return to the roots of a flowing style of play. Instead, another paltry scoreless draw has left even faithful fans distraught and dismayed. Many fingers of blame are pointing squarely at coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre.

Somewhat lost in the teeth-gnashing about the latest tied game, is the fact that obviously, Mexico is simultaneously working on a decent unbeaten streak. Yet it's not hard to imagine that El Tri fans would be willing to suffer a loss on occasion if it balanced out with wins in important games. After all, the whole point of competition is victory, which means the other side has to be vanquished. A draw, though a tolerated result under certain circumstances, always feels a bit unnatural, hence the "like kissing your sister" comparison.

One reason that it's hard for Mexico supporters to console themselves with the stout defense of El Tri is that the match versus Peru resulted in a badly injured ankle of a player, Tigres defender Hugo Ayala. Tigres, who still lead the Liga MX table, though their quest for a perfect season was marred by a loss in their last game, now find themselves in the stretch run right before the playoffs without one of their key components.

So it was no surprise, then, at the final whistle, to hear a number of sullen boos on the broadcast from the fans in attendance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. El Tri supporters expect better from their squad. Frenetic and fitful by turn, this Mexico team struggled against a Peru squad that was missing several top players.

At first, it seemed that Pablo Barrera might get the fairy-tale comeback in his first national team game after an injury layoff. He looked eager to make an impact on the match, taking his chance with a hard shot on goal in the 23rd minute. However, though he mustered several charges into Peruvian territory on the field, Barrera lacked a strong working connection with his El Tri teammates. Either he was late or inaccurate with the final pass, or his teammates were when interchanging the ball together.

Some of the game was simply embarrassing. Midway through the second half, attacker Omar Bravo went down easily and dramatically in the box during a tussle with Peruvian defender Christian Ramos. Video replays allowed fans to see that both players were essentially grabbing at each other in order to gain an advantage. How undeserved of a penalty it was became moot, though, when Angel Eduardo Reyna put a weak shot to the goalkeeper’s right side and Peru’s Jose Carvallo was able to parry it wide of the goal.

The penalty kick failure was also traumatic to fans partly because Mexico’s teams have been so impotent at scoring during the winless/unbeaten streak. In only one of their five last matches, a qualifier versus Honduras, has El Tri managed even to score, making Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez the only goalscorer for Mexico in 2013.

What’s clear is that the easy answer to Mexico's woes simply doesn’t exist. That quick solution might have been Barrera, had he been firing on all cylinders, but he wasn’t, and he’s not. Striker Carlos Vela is a complicated issue, given the need for team discipline and fairness, but at this point, he is sorely needed, and overtures should be made to help secure his return to the team. Replacing "Chepo" de la Torre is another possible solution, but one fraught with risk and difficulty, even if it is ultimately necessary.

It could be that Vela is simply waiting the situation out, refusing to rejoin El Tri until the coach who sent him into national team exile and humiliation is gone. If so, Vela might not have long to wait.

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