El Tri group stage grades: Flashes of a potent offense

CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 23: Raul Jimenez #9 and Uriel Antuna #22 of Mexico celebrates 2nd goal during a group A match between Martinique and Mexico at Bank of America Stadium on June 23, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 23: Raul Jimenez #9 and Uriel Antuna #22 of Mexico celebrates 2nd goal during a group A match between Martinique and Mexico at Bank of America Stadium on June 23, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

El Tri won all three group stage games at the Gold Cup, but its offense slacked off after an explosive start.

For only the second time, Team Mexico finished a Gold Cup group stage with a 3-0-0 record (in 2011, and El Tri went on to win the title against the U.S.A.). Mexico’s uninspiring performance in its final Group A match (a 3-2 win against tiny Martinique) punctured the growing aura of invincibility surrounding El Tri.

Next up for “Tata” Martino’s charges is a challenging quarterfinal match-up against Costa Rica, an opponent El Tri thought it would not face until the semifinals. Haiti surprised pundits with its 2-1 win over the Ticos to claim first place in Group B and next faces Canada with the winner facing the survivor of Friday’s Mexico-Costa Rica clash.

Before taking a closer look at El Tri’s next rival, it’s worth taking a look back at Mexico’s first three Gold Cup games and grading the squad’s performances. We’ll start with the attackers in this column, and grade out the defense in a subsequent article.

El Tri going forward

Mexico completed a three-game sweep in Group A with a 13-3 goal differential, continuing its streak of scoring at least 3 goals in each game with “Tata” on the sideline. The offense was wasteful, however, and clinical finishing was in relatively short supply.

Game stats show an average of 70% possession over 270 minutes and a 90% pass completion rate. With the ball at its feet most of the time, Team Mexico outshot its opponents 73 to 21, but El Tri sprayed far too many shots or saw them blocked by defenders.

Player movement and spacing was solid even though forward trident of Raúl Jiménez, Uriel Antuna and Roberto Alvarado barely knew each other a month ago. Possession was bolstered by cautious passing along the back, but movement through the middle of the field could have been crisper.

In my grades below, the team’s overall profligacy – especially in the lackadaisacal 3-2 win over Martinique – cost the offense 1 point across the board and the performances in the 7-0 rout of Cuba were taken with a grain of salt. The data under each player’s name indicates the minutes played against that opponent.

Raúl Jiménez – 8

72’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada, 73’ v Martinique

A taskmaster might knock Raúl for flubbing a few shots, but MAN-oh-MAN his work-rate is fabulous. In addition to 3 goals and an assist, the Wolves striker was a key participant in 6 other goals. His willingness to track back and defend, and share space up front imbues energy to his mates and encourages generosity. He and Antuna are developing an electric partnership.

El Tri group stage grades
Raul Jimenez #9 and Uriel Antuna are building a good strike partnership for “Tata” Martino. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

Uriel Antuna – 8.5

90’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada, 90’ v Martinique

The 21-year-old L.A. Galaxy star is the only “offensive” player to play every minute thus far and his production has been fabulous – 4 goals and 2 assists. His commitment to winning was evident when he switched place with “Chaka” Rodríguez late in the Canada game after the right back felt a twinge in his leg and Mexico had used all its subs already.

Roberto Alvarado – 5

65’ v Cuba, 68’ v Canada, 45’ v Martinique

The Cruz Azul winger has been mostly ineffective, not contributing much from the left flank. Tata’s first tactical substitution has been for Alvarado in each game. If Rodolfo Pizarro is fully healed, “Piojo” could find himself on the bench the rest of the way.

Rodolfo Pizarro – 7.5

45’ v Martinique

Just fit after a thigh issue, Pizarro finally saw the field for the second half against Martinique, just enough to warrant a grade. He showed flashes as well as rust, but supplied a beautiful assist on Jiménez’s goal to put Mexico up 2-1. The Monterrey playmaker misfired on one open shot and wasted a scoring opportunity with a weak header. “Tata” will hope Rodolfo is ready for some heavier minutes from here on out.

Carlos Rodríguez – 7.5

90’ v Cuba, 17’ v Canada, 90’ v Martinique

El Tri group stage grades
Carlos Rodriguez has won a spot in midfield with his stellar play. (Photo: Shaun Clark/Getty Images) /

C-Rod has shown extended flashes of brilliance – his diagonal pass leading to Raúl’s second goal against Cuba was a thing of beauty, but seems to defer too much for my linking from time-to-time. Aggressiveness on defense has occasionally taken Rodríguez out of position and that will have to be cleaned up.

Andrés Guardado – 7

90’ v Cuba, 53’ v Canada, 67’ v Martinique

“El Principito” has been hot and cold. His star turn against Canada was a huge boost (especially his 26-meter blast off a steal caused by Raúl), but he was not his usual reliable self in the other two games. His passing lacked sharpness overall, and he didn’t look great against Martinique.

Jonathan dos Santos – 7

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73’ v Canada, 23’ v Martinique

Jona was steady, but not spectacular. He had his moments against Canada (running into space and almost thundering home a volley, and pestering Canadian ball carriers). He is reliable, but hindered a bit by lack of full fitness.

Orbelín Pineda – N/A

25’ v Cuba

The shifty midfielder saw mop-up duty against an overmatched Cuba side, and did not transcend. He could see action on the wing in the knockout stage, so let’s hope he’s ready.

Alexis Vega – N/A

18’ v Cuba, 13’ v Martinique

Vega scored against Cuba but has shown little in his brief time on the field. The Chivas forward hustles, but does not look comfortable … yet.

Luis Montes – N/A

22’ v Canada

“Chapito” mixed it up in his brief time on the pitch. The steady veteran is an insurance policy if Guardado or dos Santos need rest or are unavailable later on (i.e., injury or suspension).

Erick Gutiérrez – N/A

32’ v Canada

The PSV Eindhoven midfielder pulled a hammy only half an hour into his only appearance. To be honest, he was off to a slow start in the match.