Mexico's task against Ecuador? Avoid injury in hostile home away from home

Nestor Araujo Mexico 2018
Richard Rodriguez
The beautiful AT&T Stadium has often been cruel to El Tri, which will be looking to get to the Gold Cup without suffering more injuries

The Dallas-Fort Worth region is the Mexican national team's home away from home. Yet, in recent years, it's been a bit hostile. 

The fans turn out in big numbers to watch El Tri. That's why they keep coming back. Were it not for that, though, it's tough to imagine the Mexican federation agreeing to another game here. 

There was the 2014 match against Ecuador in which Luis Montes' World Cup hopes were dashed by injury after a leg-breaking collision that put a hush over a full AT&T Stadium. 

There was the horror-show game in March 2018 when not only did Mexico lose to an under-strength Croatia team (which at the time was yet to make a charge at the World Cup final), it also saw Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo go off with injuries. Araujo and Reyes wouldn't make it to the World Cup. 

And there was the game in 2015 when now Mexico coach Tata Martino led Argentina in. Martino's memories of the game? 

"I've coached a team that played at this stadium, Mexico-Argentina precisely. The field wasn't all good. It wasn't good at all. I'm sure that tomorrow it'll be very good," Martino said at a news conference Saturday. 

Still, the bad luck Mexico has had at AT&T Stadium is just that: bad luck. The grass put out over the turf that normally blankets the home of the Dallas Cowboys can be patchy, but Martino's wish that the field be in better shape looks to be coming true. 

A player can play 90 minutes without incident on a cow patch, though. Or, he can be injured on the magnificent hybrid grass of Wembley Stadium. All Martino knows is he needs luck to go his way this time around. With one healthy field player available as a reinforcement for his Gold Cup squad, priority number one in Sunday's friendly isn't beating Ecuador, it's getting out of Texas and onto the final week of Gold Cup prep with a full group. 

Edson Alvarez posted on social media that his injury suffered Wednesday in a 3-1 win over Venezuela was nothing serious. Alvarez worked out apart from the full group as his recovery continues, and Martino still isn't certain Alvarez will be fit for the tournament. The coach said he'll wait until the day before the tournament, his last day to make an injury replacement, to make sure Alvarez can go. 

Even so, Martino said it has nothing to do with the turf or venue or even with the play itself. It was just bad luck. 

"The other day, with Edson, it really has nothing to do with the field. When you play football, injuries are part of what can happen. Nobody wants it. Sometimes, it happens," he said. "What happened with Edson is enough. Ligament extension injuries, while they're not rare in football, they're also not common. It doesn't happen every day. A player with this extension, in the first game he plays, for it to happen again is very rare. Sometimes things happen by chance." 

Edson Alvarez Mexico 2019

That's exactly why Mexico felt fine making the DFW region its home away from home and signing up to play a match a year in AT&T Stadium. Fans turn out, money is made and the injury thing? Well, that's just a coincidence.  

Expect to see some fresh faces for Mexico, though veterans like Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa should also get the nod after not starting against Venezuela. Martino is still figuring out how some of his players respond to game-time situations. Plus, he has to take as many precautions as possible with players like Raul Jimenez or Rodolfo Pizarro, for whom there are no obvious replacements should they take a knock. 

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"I'm thinking about these two games, speaking about Venezuela and Ecuador, in the same way I thought about Chile and Paraguay. For us, it's an important period of getting to know all the players, not only as humans but being around them, in training. We also want to see them when it's time to compete," Martino said.  

"We've had the chance to see an important group of players in the two FIFA dates and tomorrow we plan to complete our period of getting to know some players who for various reasons have only played a few minutes or haven't played. And after that there's enough time, around a week, to prepare for the game against Cuba." 

So, while AT&T Stadium will again be packed with fans, it's not necessarily a fourth win out of four that's most important for Martino. It's getting on the plane to Southern California with everyone aboard. If that happens, the Metroplex will indeed have made a happy home.