r1192522 1296x729 16 9 - Replay Madness

No matter Mexico‘s 3-1 win over Haiti in the Gold Cup group stage, or the secured spot in the tournament’s knockout round after two matches, Thursday was a reminder that El Tri, in fact, only had a week of training with new interim manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano.

While the team looked superior under “LamborJimmy” in Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of Honduras, the match against Haiti at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, showcased that this new model of El Tri will need more test drives.

In the first half, the tactics appeared correct as Mexico successfully pressured the opposition and got numbers forward, but they struggled with their decision-making. Chance after chance eventually arrived for Lozano’s players, but the finishing was suspect. Highlighting the occasional disconnect between the starting XI, midfielder Luis Romo nearly gifted Haiti a goal through a mistimed pass near his own 18-yard box.

That wasn’t the only time that Les Grenandiers were given chances by Mexico’s miscues either. At times when Mexico overcommitted in attack, Haiti were dangerous with pacey counters that tested the backline.

Walking into halftime with a scoreless result, there was a sense that El Tri’s gameplan was the right one, but that those behind the wheel of the LamborJimmy still weren’t entirely comfortable. When hitting the occasional bump on the road or a quick turn, metaphorically speaking, a handful of players swerved a little too slowly or overcorrected.

The good news for Lozano, who gave a few driving tips during halftime, was that things initially improved after the break.

“If you noticed in the second half, the crosses were a lot faster, also the actions were much more about arriving and crossing, and not playing so many one-on-ones, because that gave the opponents time,” Lozano said after the match.

In the 46th minute, off a quick cross from Uriel Antuna, striker Henry Martin connected with the lobbed pass and headed it into the back of the net, putting Mexico up 1-0. Shortly afterwards during the 56th minute, and coming off another rapid cross, Jesus Gallardo‘s low drive from the left flank forced an own-goal from Haiti’s Ricardo Ade, their captain that accidentally hit the ball into his own net.

Up 2-0, however, the match continued to be a mixed bag for Mexico. Haiti grew more confident in the final stages, eventually gaining more possession and attacking momentum. By the 78th minute, they then scored their lone goal of the game through a header from Danley Jean Jacques off a corner.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t had the time to work on everything that we’ve wanted,” said Lozano about the Haiti goal and the limited trainings he’s had on set pieces.

That said, the players still followed through with Lozano’s directions. With another hurried cross from Antuna in the 83rd minute, substitute forward Santiago Gimenez dove for the ball and nudged it into Haiti’s net.

Mexico would go on to clinch the well-earned win, but with a recognition from their manager that the victory was an arduous one.

“It’s Haiti, but for me, the match was very hard,” said Lozano. “Although we had opportunities, although we had a lot of time with the ball … it was very hard because they don’t even need to play that well. Through their players, through a set piece, a counterattack, they can really hurt you.”

With respect to Haiti, and Honduras in the previous game, Mexico can afford to take damage from those opponents. Nobody expects a perfect performance so early in Lozano’s tenure, and luckily for both, the group stage of the Gold Cup is typically a forgiving road for larger nations in the region. This also extends into Mexico’s final group stage match this Sunday against Qatar, who are currently winless in the Gold Cup and with only two goals scored so far.

But this weekend, that’ll likely be the last opportunity for Lozano to fine-tune and experiment.

A guaranteed spot in the knockout round means he can rotate his roster and test out tactics against Qatar, but once past the group stage, the level of play will significantly increase. Despite Mexico now going 17 for 17 when it comes to making it out of the group stage of the Gold Cup, they’ve only been champions once in the last three editions.

As unfair as it seems to expect an immediate title for a manager like Lozano that took charge just days before the tournament, there will be no little excuses when you consider that fellow championship-contenders like the United States and Canada have sent “B” squads into the tournament.

So, the race continues to be ready for the knockout round. Mexico’s finishing, decision-making and overall attacking movement need to be better, especially if they want to win just their second title since 2016.

No longer the undisputed Concacaf giants, Mexico desperately need a comeback after falling out of the spotlight that is now shining on the U.S. men’s national team, the current Gold Cup and the Nations League title-holders.

Mexico must first learn how to properly command their vehicle though, and if they soon don’t, the Lozano interim experiment could careen out of control in the knockout round, adding further problems to a national team setup that is far from fully regaining its once imposing status.

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Mexico under ‘LamborJimmy’ needs more test drives at Gold Cup