Montes provides moment of magic for Mexico, putting bad memories in the past

Montes Mexico 2019Getty

AT&T Stadium against Ecuador. It was the same setting as one of the darkest moments of Luis Montes' career. 

Montes was set to be part of Miguel Herrera's squad for the 2014 World Cup, but a collision at midfield with Ecuador midfielder Segundo Castillo resulted in a broken leg that ended his hopes for Brazil. 

Now, the site of that supreme pain for Montes also is the site of one of the brightest.

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The 33-year-old put an inch-perfect free kick over the Ecuador wall in the 63rd minute and past goalkeeper Maximo Banguera for El Tri's second goal of the match. Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez would later add another and El Tri extended its winning streak under Tata Martino to four matches.

It's the fifth national team goal all-time for "El Chapo," and his second of the year as he's enjoying a late-career resurgence both with Leon and the national team. He helped Leon get back into the final after a rough go the past several seasons. He, along with Ecuador international Angel Mena who scored a free kick of his own before Montes', spearheaded a Leon attack that scored more goals than any other team in Liga MX.

The strong season wasn't rewarded with a title, as Leon fell short against Tigres in the final. He was, however, rewarded with a spot on Martino's 23-man Gold Cup squad.

"Football has those things, right?" Martino said in his post-match news conference. "A while back, he had this injury, he was out of the World Cup. Today he took a phenomenal free kick. Football changes a lot, and sometimes as time passes, the good transforms into bad and the bad transforms into good. What happened with El Chapo today is another example of that."

After his performance Sunday afternoon, Montes' place in the team is now much more clear. Traditionally a 10, it's at times seemed like getting the veteran on the field is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Yet at times Mexico looked to be in something of a 4-2-3-1 with Montes right at home in the center of the attack. That was the case when he combined with Jonathan dos Santos, turned and fired a long-range shot just over the bar in the first half. Other times, he slid back into the midfield, putting in the kind of defensive work needed from an interior midfielder.

"I think we need to accommodate him more," Martino said. "If I’m not mistaken, he came into the Paraguay game as a left winger. Today he played as a left midfielder. Sometimes he switched with Jonathan and Jonathan went to the left and he’d come to the right. We need to accommodate him more in this space, because the reality is he’s not used to playing in this position.

"He needs to get forward more. Surely as time goes gone, with training, he’ll adapt and will play like he does in Leon and be able to adapt and play really well in the national team as well."

At 33, he also is the oldest field player. Andres Guardado is captain and Guillermo Ochoa is a leader, but Montes has plenty of words for young players as well - especially those coming back from serious injuries.

Both teams were hoping to get out of this contest with a better understanding of where they were ahead of their respective continental championships and get out without any injuries. Hector Moreno leaving the contest in the first half after booting a ball upfield and being unable continue means the supposed curse that looms over this stadium for El Tri could continue. But while Martino won't want any more injuries, center back is one of the few positions where he could afford a short-term absence.

The first task was accomplished. Martino knows where he has depth and where he lacks it. He also watched this morning as the United States team thought to be his chief rival to lift the Gold Cup coughed up three goals in the first half of a match against a Venezuela team El Tri rolled past last week. 

Mexico now has a week to fine-tune the details before taking on Cuba in the first match of the Gold Cup. Even that may serve as a tune-up, with Martino admitting that while the Gold Cup group stage actually counts as official matches, the competition faced from South America could be stronger than Cuba, Canada and Martinique.

That kind of thinking can leave a team open to upset. Montes will be there to remind his younger teammates how important staying focused really is. Oh, and he's not a bad option to have standing over the ball on a free kick in the area either.