Given the widespread complaints over Mexico’s performance in the last pair of World Cup qualifiers, you’d think El Tri’s ship was sinking. Instead, the Mexicans are the first team through to the Hexagonal, with a perfect 12 points out of 12 thus far.
Reading the standings, it’s easy to say those criticizing El Tri are overreacting - in fact I did so after the game the other night, and I plan to say so again later in this column.
But it would also be shortsighted to not take a peak at what the nitpickers are complaining about. Doing so reveals that the worries have at least some merit.
In the past few matches, Mexico has lost much of its dynamic on offense. The team has become a bit one dimensional, with the unique focus of attack seeming to be to get the ball wide, get it up the flanks, and then cross it in to Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez for a header.
It eventually worked against Costa Rica on Tuesday, didn't against a U.S. B-team in El Azteca last month, and in between Mexico was bailed out in San Jose by two set pieces.
So it’s true, El Tri has suddenly become a bit stagnant on offense. And the reliance on wing play and Chicharito makes Mexico an easier team to defend against, something the U.S. and Costa Rica did well at times.
But this, in and of itself, is not cause for panic.
Firstly, the one player who single-handedly adds another dimension to the Mexican attack, Giovani Dos Santos, hasn’t been involved in any of those matches, but will be back in plenty of time for the next meaningful match El Tri plays, which won’t be until next year anyway.
Also, El Tri has some of its best attacking talent out wide. The underappreciated Andres Guardado is one of Mexico’s most consistent players. Javier Aquino is showing all the promise in the world, and Elias Hernandez may have some too. Where those guys end, the deep crop of wide players from the U-23s is waiting in the wings.
So building an attack around wing play and Chicharito’s head makes plenty of sense.
But, of course, it can’t be the only strategy. When opponents stop the flow out wide, El Tri needs Dos Santos. When he’s not around, Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre must be flexible enough to diagnose the problem and let a player like Marco Fabian do the job of picking apart the back line and drawing defenders inside and up the field instead.
For the meantime, though, this hasn’t been an issue. The big picture is that Mexico is cruising through a phase that in the past has caused El Tri trouble, and continues to do so for other regional giants like Costa Rica, Honduras and the U.S. - none of which is assured of moving on at this point.
Mexican fans should be glad of that at least, even the ones who didn’t like the looks of El Tri on Tuesday night. Qualifying from CONCACAF is just not as easy as anyone would like to think. De la Torre knows that still applies to Mexico as well.
But when push comes to shove next year in the Hexagonal - and despite the current domination of El Tri, chances are that a pinch will at some point - Mexico will need the offense to be as dynamic and dangerous as it has been in the recent past.
So talking about flexibility and a few changes does make some sense, even if it sounds like ungrounded nitpicking. But putting it all in context, remember that no strategy could possibly have improved on Mexico’s current qualifying point haul or position.
The prospects going forward towards Brazil 2014? Well, that may be a different story.
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