El Tri coasted to yet another semifinal round win on Tuesday night, before a sparse crowd in Torreon. It seems Mexican fans and players alike are tiring of the repetitive ease with which their team routinely dispatches regional opponents -- winding up an impressive six from six in this third round of CONCACAF qualifying.
This time around, Mexico did it with a bit of a twist, as Jose Manuel De la Torre sent out a mostly B-squad and still managed to trounce a desperate El Salvador side.
Never fear, El Tri fans. Next year’s Hexagonal should provide a better test, and failing that the Gold Cup defense and Confederations Cup challenge certainly will. In the meantime, here’s what we learned -- or didn’t -- on a festive and pressure-free Tuesday night in Coahuila.
Trying to learn too much teaches you nothing. It’s a law of science that if you want to see what’s going on in an experiment, you have to hold all but one variable constant. International soccer isn’t quite that strict, but if you change seven or eight out of 11 starters then you’re not likely to learn very much.
That’s just about what De la Torre did on Tuesday, making it a little harder to decipher exactly what was going on out there in TSM. Of the regulars, only Maza Rodriguez, Andres Guardado, and Oribe Peralta and Severo Meza if you like, kept their spots.
On the positive side, several players managed to stand out despite the confusion. But Jorge Enriquez, for one, had a quiet game, and it was telling that Hector Herrera looked as effective as he did after coming on just behind two players who are regulars in the first team. The closing minutes are usually garbage time, but with more quality in the game, that dynamic was reversed on Tuesday.
Ultimately, though all the players’ El Tri chances will be judged on tonight’s performances, in many cases they probably shouldn’t be.
On a night when it was hard to stand out, Angel Reyna stood out. Given the wholesale changes that De la Torre opted for all over the field, for many players this was set to be a test easy to flunk. Under those conditions, Reyna’s individual brilliance stood out, as he provided perhaps his best performance in the national team uniform.
Most of Reyna’s previous outings for El Tri have come in a central midfield role, where he’s sometimes looked uncomfortable in De la Torre’s scheme, which demands defense as well as offensive push from central mids. Set free on the right wing, Reyna repeatedly flashed the creativity and on-the-ball guile he’s known for, creating numerous scoring chances for his teammates.
It’s a revealing performance for Reyna, who has always been a fringe player in De la Torre’s book. Adding effective wing play to his national team repertoire certainly puts the Monterrey man more firmly in the equation going forward.
These two games haven’t provided many answers. With several regulars missing and absolutely nothing to play for, this was probably always going to be the case, but the matches against Guyana and El Salvador really didn’t serve El Tri for much at all.
Mexico’s quality was so much greater than both teams that even makeshift lineups still dominated, and El Tri probably could have scored 20 goals over the 180 minutes had the players really applied themselves.
Still, with limited chances to see the full team before next year’s Hexagonal, and next summer’s dual Cups for that matter, De la Torre may rue the fact that he didn’t find out a little more about players that could prove useful by then, specifically the likes of Herrera and Enriquez. Diego Reyes also sat out.
De la Torre may have made a mistake by not giving the Olympic teamers in general more of a chance, since it should be clear to him that the likes of Carlos Peña and Joel Huiqui are not going to help win El Tri any titles come 2013.
At least no one got hurt. At the end of the day, it was business as usual for Mexico’s regional juggernaut, and El Tri has until next year to think about its next competitive match.
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