DENVER — Mexico never seemed to be in any danger of losing Thursday's Gold Cup group match against Jamaica, but it also hardly threatened to get a win.
Nearly 50,000 fans came to Sports Authority Field to see El Tri get three points against the Reggae Boyz. They didn't get a winning Mexico and, maybe worse, they got a boring one. The 0-0 draw with a defensively stout Jamaica, backed up by star goalkeeper Andre Blake, prompted many to chant "Fuera Osorio."
While the suspended coach is in no danger of losing his job and Mexico is in little danger of not winning the group with a contest against an under-strength Curacao approaching, the lack of a playmaker was on display Thursday night.
More accurately, Mexico had a playmaker on the field in the first half only to see him taken off the field. This tournament always was going to be a struggle for Rodolfo Pizarro, with El Tri set to stick with a 4-3-3 set up that puts him out wide in a position he doesn't know well. But it's worth asking why in a team so used to making subtle tweaks, Pizarro wasn't slotted behind central forward Erick "Cubo" Torres.
Instead, the Chivas attacker was taken off at halftime, with a center back coming on to replace him. Jesus Gallardo moved from left back to the wing as Mexico again worked with four center backs out wide.
"We lacked effenciy, effectiveness, better ball movement. passes that should've been stronger to connect with our wingers," Mexico assistant Luis Pompilio Paez said after the game. "We changed the structure, we inverted our wingers. What we lacked was the ability to break through."
"We had the ball, we controlled the whole field but we lacked the last 20 meters, in this area of attack to create attacking situations. It's not easy to do against an opponent that practically is playing with nine men back and just one forward," he concluded.
Jamaica's defense was smart. They conceded few fouls in dangerous areas, neutralizing Mexico's ability to score from a set piece as it did for its opening goal against El Salvador. Elias Hernandez out wide had Torres in the box at times but Jamaica's tall center backs were able to cope with the Leon midfielder's crosses in a way El Salvador's defense could not. More significantly, the players further up the field denied wide players the opportunity to float in balls.
"Mexico is Mexico regardless of what we might think," Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said after the game. "What we did, we took the Mexicans out of their comfort zone. We know they like to go down the wings and hit crosses so what we did was try to stop that and see what else they would come up with."
What they came up with was next to nothing. There was little joy for Hernandez or Gallardo, who pushed up onto the right wing after playing a half at left back. Jamaica showed Osorio what having true fullbacks can provide. Kemar "Taxi" Lawrence and Alvas Powell didn't get forward frequently but did keep Mexico on its toes with the potential of the counterattack. More importantly, though, was what they did in keeping Mexico wingers from cutting inside or putting the ball in to Torres.
The Caribbean side's attacking strategy came into stark view in stoppage time, when Jamaica put just one player into the box for a corner kick, played the ball short and promptly kicked it out for a Mexico goal kick. The draw serves Jamaica well after its tournament-opening victory. It dealt with the reigning champion of the region, a team that it couldn't cope with two years ago when the teams met in the final.
Things may have been different were Pizarro put into his natural role, though it's no guarantee the Chivas man would've been able to rise to the challenge after he struggled in the first half. But beyond that, the options on the alternative side Mexico has brought to the tournament are hardly plentiful. The lack of anyone who has ideas about how to beat a defense, who can provide any sort of creativity, was laid bare Thursday night. Missing that sort of player may not keep Mexico from winning Group B, but it's difficult to imagine Mexico defending its CONCACAF championship without someone, anyone to spark the team into action.