Mexico's next generation deserves patience amid changing of the guard
HOUSTON -- A 4-1 loss for Mexico against Uruguay under normal circumstances would be cause for an internal inquiry as to the direction El Tri is heading, especially when the loss comes in a stadium in which Mexico's fans were in the overwhelming majority.
Perhaps interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti has managed the expectations for this group of young player particularly well, or maybe the news that Diego Maradona is taking over at second-division side Dorados de Sinaloa has simply taken the attention away from the national team. It could be that the fact many seem to want Ferretti to stay on as permanent Mexico coach has given him some leeway.
There were no rants in the media about why 20-year-old Jesus Angulo was played as a center-back, when he's played most, if not all, of his 14 Liga MX games for Santos Laguna at left-back. Whether Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez is an international-quality player could've also been put under the microscope given his sloppiness in possession. And then there was Ferretti's somewhat strange decision to call up and start Chivas striker Alan Pulido, who hasn't started a league game in more than a month due to injury, as well as the abysmal defending from set pieces.
While asking such questions is valid, it was also refreshing to see the outrage that often accompanies a Mexico loss was muted and measured. There was little of the vitriolic outpouring that former El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio had to deal with in his reign whenever a result, or performance, didn't match the often-exaggerated expectations.
And that is very much a good thing, because if we learned anything from Friday's game in NRG Stadium, it is that more of that patience will be required moving forward as Mexico gradually transitions to a new generation of player.
In the post-Russia 2018 order, so much is up in the air for Mexico. Who will be the new coach? When will the announcement be made? Which players from the 2018 World Cup generation deserve to stick around for Qatar 2022?
The one thing that is certain -- and that Ferretti has been spot on about -- is that players such as debutants Angulo, Diego Lainez and Roberto Alvarado as well as Jonathan Gonzalez, Gibran Lajud, Gerardo Arteaga, Jose Abella and others are the future and need to be given opportunities.
"A certain percentage of the national team's future is here," said Ferretti after the game, stressing that he wants these players to do enough under his tutelage in the friendlies remaining this year so that the youngsters remain part of the squad when a permanent appointment is made.
On Friday, as soon as the Uruguay team filtered through, the suspicion was that this would be a difficult task for El Tri. The Diego Godin-Jose Maria Gimenez axis in defense was always going to be tough to break down, and Luis Suarez up against Hugo Ayala and Angulo a cause for concern.
And the South Americans did provide a perfect litmus test with their characteristic combination of competitive spirit and top talent. After a bright start for El Tri, Uruguay made Mexico look disjointed and reliant on Hirving Lozano for real quality.
The Mexican youngsters got a glimpse of the standard required at international level, and there are some tentative positive signs. Alvarado made his full national team debut on his 20th birthday and was bright in the second half, 18-year-old Lainez was ambitious when he had the ball at his feet and mature in addressing the press after the game, while Victor Guzman almost scored an overhead kick.
While the Uruguay test provided a reality check for anyone getting carried away by the youngsters' positive performances in Liga MX, the United States on Tuesday should be an opportunity to shine. The Stars and Stripes also have a young squad, and with Guillermo Ochoa, Erick Gutierrez and Hirving Lozano not making the trip to Nashville, the next generation will have to step up.
Lajud, 24, could start in goal, while Abella, Arteaga, Lainez, Alvarado, Guzman, Gonzalez, Edson Alvarez, Orbelin Pineda, Erick Aguirre and Angel Zaldivar should all be in line for minutes.
Results aren't the most important thing at present for Mexico, but after a justified beating at the hands of Uruguay, a win over the United States would be a nice boost of confidence early in this generation's adaptation to international soccer. Whatever happens, keeping patience as these players get used to their new status as full national team players will be absolute crucial for Mexico moving forward.