If Mexico is able to get past Jamaica in Sunday's Gold Cup semifinal, much will be written and made of the team's return to Levi's Stadium in Northern California.
It was there just more than a year ago that Juan Carlos Osorio looked on as his Mexico team was crushed 7-0 in a Copa America Centenario quarterfinal against Chile and is also where the Gold Cup final will take place Wednesday.
Critics said Osorio didn't learn from that game after his side again took a lopsided loss in its first knockout game at this summer's biggest tournament, the Confederations Cup, a 4-1 defeat to eventual champion Germany. But the loss tortured Osorio. After Mexico decided to retain him as coach, he sought advice from some of his coaching heroes and went through a personal process he still hasn't spoke much about.
"We’ve continued, even with losses that have tormented me for a while, but the scars stay there," Osorio said at a news conference Saturday. "We’ve gotten past that and the group has won more than it has lost. We’re very hopeful in continuing to grow."
Now the game has given Mexico a unique opportunity — to show it has learned its lesson in the same tournament. While El Tri come into Sunday's semifinal against the Reggae Boyz undefeated, the second group match against that same opposition was the low point in what's been an uninspiring tournament.
Jamaica's defense suffocated Mexico, with Theodore Whitmore electing to sit back and send his team on only a few forays forwards. While his center backs Damion Lowe and Jermaine Taylor thrived thanks to Mexico's lack of a dangerous central presence, fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Alvas Powell kept El Tri's wingers from cutting inside when inverted or crossing when playing on their natural sides. With one of the region's top goalkeepers in Andre Blake behind that unit, there's little reason to expect "Tappa" to have his team come out of its shell at the Rose Bowl.
Even so, Osorio has insisted that his team will be able to beat Jamaica's bunker this time, able to surge into the final third and find goals. An early breakthrough from Rodolfo Pizarro against Honduras hinted at success in the final third that hasn't been present for Mexico in this tournament, but after the third-minute tally it was back to more of the same. Mexico has found chances in the quarterfinal but failed to put them away.
Still, Osorio, assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez and the rest of the staff have stayed resolute in their approach and have remained positive with the team, even with doubts likely to creep in ahead of the rematch. The team practiced penalty kicks, as you'd expect a coach as detailed as Osorio to have his side do ahead of a game that could be decided from the spot. But, of course, that drew criticsm from many that he didn't trust his team to get the result in regulation.
"We’re making a genuine effort not to translate doubts, to help the players stay calm and give us the chance to win," Osorio said. "As I’ve said before, the Mexican player is brave, educated, willing to work. The group is the same as the group at the Confederations was at its time, optimistic and hoping it wins the title."
That optimism quickly faded when Leon Goretzka scored twice in the first 10 minutes of Mexico's Confederations Cup semifinal loss. But though Jamaica proved it can hang with El Tri in the group stage, it can't claim to be close to the same caliber as the world champion. With the curse of losing knockout games broken after the win against Los Catrachos, Mexico should be confident it can reach the final and even lift the trophy.
Osorio and his staff designed this tournament to be a learning experience. If his young players truly learned anything from their struggles against Jamaica the first time around, they'll be able to prove it Sunday in the semifinal.