El Tri mired in slump; Ascenso semifinals set

CORDOBA, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 16: Rodrigo De Paul of Argentina drives the ball during a friendly match between Argentina and Mexico at Mario Kempes Stadium on November 16, 2018 in Cordoba, Argentina. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)
CORDOBA, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 16: Rodrigo De Paul of Argentina drives the ball during a friendly match between Argentina and Mexico at Mario Kempes Stadium on November 16, 2018 in Cordoba, Argentina. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images) /

As Team Mexico prepares for its second match vs Argentina, the players are trying to shut out the roiling debate about whether this 6-month, post-World Cup process is a waste of time.

Tigres coach Tuca Ferretti reluctantly agreed to serve as interim coach after the national soccer federation failed to convince Juan Carlos Osorio to stay on the job after his contract expired at the end of July. Since then, Team Mexico officials has been searching for a candidate to guid El Tri to the 2022 World Cup but the “Coach Wanted” sign it posted on the front door has not proven fruitful.

Meanwhile, El Tri has gone 1-0-4 (4 goals, 10 goals against) and the critics are lining up, some within the locker room.

Goalie Guillermo Ochoa – one of Team Mexico’s captains – on Saturday said El Tri “is not on the right path … (it) has no direction.”

“It’s time for a (full-time) coach to get in and start putting his plan in place, because we can definitely compete with these youngsters,” he told reporters after Friday’s 2-0 loss.

Héctor Moreno, a central defender who plays in Spain, said he’d rather not return to El Tri until a new coach is in place.

Some pundits have criticized coach Tuca, arguing that he has taken a blasé approach to his task as manager of El Tri. El Universal Deportes on Sunday made its case, saying Tuca is normally an irascible disciplinarian who rules over his teams with an iron fist. During this stint with the national team, Tuca has been noticeably more lenient.

Ochoa, Raúl Jiménez and Miguel Layún have left training camp to return to their clubs in Europe and won’t be available for Tuesday’s game. The same thing occurred during the two previous FIFA breaks. Four players left camp after participating in the Uruguay match (a 4-1 loss) on Sept. 7 and missed the game vs the USA. Two were allowed to leave after the 3-2 win over Costa Rica in October and skipped the match with Chile.

To be honest, Tuca was always in a no-win situation. If El Tri had done well, there would be pressure on him to take the job permanently (which he insisted he had no interest in) and as things have gone poorly, he is getting considerable blame (along with federation officials).

But Tuca could not have been expected to take a long-term approach. The new coach would always have his own tactical ideas and training strategies. Tuca’s main goal should have been – and appears to have been – work out the younger kids and kick-start the renovation of Team Mexico with an eye on helping identify players who might be hitting their prime in four years.

More from Ascenso MX

Former Team Mexico coach Manuel Lapuente dismisses the notion that the current process has been a lost cause. “The incoming coach can simply look at the game and practice film and make his own judgments,” he said, according to El Universal Deportes. “That alone would be a big help, with an analytical approach to make his own qualifications and critiques about the performances.”

Tuesday’s rematch will feature a new line-up with plenty of changes from Friday. Not only are the three previously mentioned starters back in Europe, but central defender Néstor Araujo picked up a thigh injury and was replaced on the roster by Querétaro defender Hiram Mier.

It would not be a surprise if it is a completely new starting 11. I’d expect to see Pachuca’s Erick Aguirre, PSV Eindhoven’s Hirving Lozano and Tigres winger Javier Aquino leading the attack, with América striker Henry Martín getting a look too. Jesús Dueñas (Tigres) and Víctor Guzmán (Pachuca) could open in midfield while youngsters Edson Álvarez, Jesús Angulo and Gerardo Arteaga might start on the back line.

Atlante, San Luis reach Final Four

The Ascenso MX semifinals are set after No. 3 seed Atlante survived a tough challenge from the Alebrijes of Oaxaca, while No. 5 Atlético San Luis knocked out No. 4 Cimarrones of Sonora.

The Potros and the visiting Alebrijes battled to a scoreless draw Sunday night in Cancún after Thursday’s 1-1 tie in Oaxaca. Atlante advances due to its better regular-season record. The game featured plenty of back-and-forth action, but most of the scoring chances created were squandered by misfiring attackers.

Each goalie – Atlante’s Gerardo Ruiz and Oaxaca’s Carlos Velázquez – made one splendid save. Velázquez tipped a Lizandro Echeverría header over the crossbar in minute 79 but his best save came in minute 92 when he snuffed an Atlante breakaway though it turned out to be for naught.

In the other Sunday quarterfinal, San Luis restated its claim to being one of Ascenso MX’s best road teams, defeating the Cimarrones 3-1.

In minute 5, Cimarrones goalie Ricardo López carelessly spilled a rebound then blocked the first follow shot but was unable to prevent Ian González from opening the scoring. San Luis scored again off a set piece in minute 34 when Nicolás Ibáñez worked himself free inside the box and headed home a free kick from close range.

Sonora forward Miguel Vallejo narrowed the deficit to 2-1 in minute 78 with a magnificent free kick from nearly 30 meters out that slipped under the crossbar in the upper left corner. Less than 2 minutes later, Sonora’s Fernando Ortiz was at the doorstep but his tap-in was parried aside by San Luis goalie Carlos Felipe Rodríguez who lunged to prevent the equalizer.

San Luis put the game away in minute 89 when Diego Pineda converted a penalty, a call that replays indicated was erroneous.

Atlante will visit San Luis on Thursday and host the return match on Sunday. The other semifinal pits No. 1 seed Juárez against No. 7 Dorados of Sinaloa and their coach Diego Maradona.