El Tri off to rocky start in Argentina for final 2018 matches


The second Tuca Ferretti “interinato” as coach of El Tri is in its final week with Team Mexico in Argentina ahead of the two-game series against the Messi-less “albiceleste.”

Thus far, Tuca Era II has not gone as smoothly as his first term as team manager (a 4-game stint that culminated with a 3-2 victory for El Tri over the US in the 2015 Concacaf Cup). And the last leg of this current 6-game stretch is off to a bad start as Ferretti was forced to cancel Tuesday’s practice session after the team’s equipment did not arrive as logistical arrangements have been a nightmare.

The entire 25-man team finally arrived (Néstor Araujo was the last to reach Argentina, flying in from Spain where he plays for Celta de Vigo), but the charter flight arranged to take the squad from Buenos Aires to Córdoba late Monday was too small to carry all the bags. Training equipment and assorted other bags were to be transported by truck, but the truck reportedly broke down en route.

On Tuesday morning, the team was set to train at the Talleres de Córdoba training ground but the field was determined to be in bad shape, so the team tried to arrange for a practice at the local stadium where Club Atlético Belgrano plays. Only then did someone think to ask where all the training gear was.

Tuca was furious. The team ended up holding a workout in the hotel gym, while team officials called out the Argentina Soccer Federation for not making sure they were being taken care of. The players urged Tuca to skip the scheduled press conference to demonstrate their indignation.

From Tuca to Tata?

El Tri brings down the curtain on the year with two games against Argentina (Friday and Tuesday) still waiting for a full-time coach to be appointed.

Recent reports suggest Atlanta United coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino will be named once his team completes its MLS campaign. On Tuesday, Martino was named MLS coach of the year after leading the upstart franchise to second place in the Eastern Conference. On Sunday, “The Five Stripes” advanced to the conference finals which means Atlanta will be playing until at least Nov. 29.

In the meantime, Tuca has the thankless task of working with a young team in transition as El Tri looks ahead to the 2022 World Cup. During the past 4 games, Tuca has sought to identify youngsters who deserve long-term consideration while also utilizing players in Europe who are expected to be in their prime in four years.

The results have been mixed and mostly negative. During the September FIFA break, El Tri lost to Uruguay 4-1 and fell to Team USA 1-0. In October, Mexico defeated Costa Rica 3-2 before losing to Chile 1-0 on a late goal.

Plenty of holes to fill

El Tri seems to have a plethora of options in midfield with Pachuca youngsters Víctor Guzmán and Erick Aguirre opening eyes with their play wearing green. Their former teammate Erick Gutiérrez (now in Holland with PSV Eindhoven) also seems like a good bet for 2022.

The goalie position is also in good hands with veteran Guillermo Ochoa, 33, still displaying fine form in Belgium and 20-somethings Raúl Gudiño and Manuel Lajud showing promise in Liga MX.

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The concern going forward is up front where all-time leading scorer “Chicharito” Hernández is on the back end of his career, giving rise to the common complaint that Liga MX clubs fail to provide opportunities for young strikers to develop.

The argument often made is that league managers prefer proven strikers (especially with the split season format, i.e. shorter seasons, in which coaches are under pressure to win quickly). Many teams opt to bring in foreigners and Mexico’s younger forwards languish on the bench. The last time a Mexican player led Liga MX in scoring was 7 years ago (Angel Reyna scored 13 goals for América).

It has been nearly 20 years since a Mexican-born player was a top scoring threat (Jared Borgetti won back-to-back scoring titles in 2000 and 2001). Prior to that, Luis García and Carlos Hermosillo each won 3 league scoring titles (Hermosillo won his titles in 3 consecutive seasons – 1993-94,1994-95 and 1995-96).

For now, Raúl Jiménez appears to be the heir apparent and he is enjoying a career renewal in the Premier League where he signed with Wolverhampton after 3 seasons stuck on the bench with Benfica. “Chucky” Lozano will also be an offensive focal point, but he plays best out wide.

In Argentina, the Chivas’ strike tandem of Alan Pulido and Ángel Zaldívar will get an opportunity to impress while América’s Henry Martín is eager to make his case.

There are also plenty of questions on defense, but we’ll consider those in another post. Besides, these questions will be have to be re-asked when the new coach takes over and begins to install his own tactical ideas.