El Tri faces Venezuela in a friendly that will serve as a warm-up match ahead of the Gold Cup.
Team Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino returns to Atlanta, the city where he led Atlanta United to the 2018 MLS title in only its second year of existence. The club attracted huge crowds to Mercedes Benz Stadium (out-drawing the NFL Falcons in some instances) and “Tata” became a big fan favorite as he turned their team into a league power.
On Wednesday night, “Tata” will lead out his new team – Mexico – to do battle with Venezuela in a match designed to prepare El Tri for the Concacaf Gold Cup which begins next week.
The friendly match will serve both Mexico and Venezuela ahead of their respective regional tournaments (Venezuela is preparing for the Copa America in Brazil). Venezuela is no longer the South American doormat they once were and they have surprised a few teams of late (just ask Argentina).
Meanwhile, Mexico is listed as a favorite to win the Gold Cup, as is usual, regardless of who is on the roster. El Tri’s big regional rival – Team USA – is the co-favorite and will be vying to win their 7th Gold Cup trophy, which would equal Mexico’s record.
In addition to the U.S. surge in the past two decades (Team USA has won five of the past nine Gold Cups), El Tri is participating with a depleted roster as injuries and absences have complicated coach Martino’s job this summer.
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Venezuela will be a good test for Mexico even though El Tri has never lost to “La Vinotinto (9-4-0 in 13 matches prior to Wednesday night). But the South Americans arrive to Atlanta with confidence after a stunning 3-1 win over Argentina during the March FIFA break. Venezuela tied Ecuador 1-1 last Saturday in their most recent match.
Mexico is looking to continue its turnaround since “Tata” came aboard in January. El Tri lost 7 of its final 8 games in 2018, but won its first two matches with “Tata” at the helm. Team Mexico defeated Chile 3-1 then outscored Paraguay 4-2 during the March FIFA break.
Mexico heads into the Gold Cup with plenty of questions about its roster but Martino has made it clear he will not use player absences as an excuse. “Tata” insists there is sufficient talent and depth, and voiced confidence that the young players who step in to replace “Chicharito,” “Chucky” Lozano, Hector Herrera and Miguel Layun will take advantage of their opportunity. They’ll get their chances against Venezuela and vs Ecuador, El Tri’s opponent in a Sunday friendly before the Gold Cup kicks off on June 15.
Coach Martino told reporters he would not alter his preferred 4-3-3 alignment. A draw would be favorable for both teams, but a loss for El Tri will increase the pressure on “Tata.” A loss will encourage the naysayers to pile on, criticizing “Tata” for not summoning the full complement of players and questioning his ability to lead Mexico to the 2022 World Cup.
Both teams will come out firing, but I expect Mexico to attack in waves early on. I see El Tri scoring twice before intermission, then settling back to protect the lead in the second half. That’s where the miscues could give Atlanta United star Josef Martinez (a former Martino pupil) an opening to place two goals into the net.