El Tri group stage grades: Inconsistency at the back

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 15: Guillermo Ochoa #13 of Mexico during the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between Mexico and Cuba at the Rose Bowl on June 15, 2019 in Pasadena, California. Mexico won the match 7-0 (Photo: Shaun Clark/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JUNE 15: Guillermo Ochoa #13 of Mexico during the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A match between Mexico and Cuba at the Rose Bowl on June 15, 2019 in Pasadena, California. Mexico won the match 7-0 (Photo: Shaun Clark/Getty Images) /

Mexico’s defense has proven to be leaky this year and did not impress during the first three group games.

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. In this column, I grade out the defense. The offense’s evaluations can be found here.

El Tri on defense

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Except for the Cuba game, Team Mexico has conceded at least one goal in every game of the “Tata” Martino era. This has to worry “Tata,” and it should.

Erratic passing has plagued the central defenders and the team seems to give up two or three easy scoring chances every game. The return of Edson Álvarez solidifies Mexico’s holding midfielder position, and his passing ability – if emphasized more – should relieve the defense of an unnecessary burden to kick-start the offense.

Fullback play has been solid, even stellar in transition into offense. But overall transition defense still needs work and man-marking must improve.

In my grades below, the tendency to take rash fouls and the occasional set-piece breakdowns cost the defense a point across the board. The data under each player’s name indicates the minutes played against that opponent.

Guillermo Ochoa – 8

90’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada

“Memo” did not see a shot on goal against Cuba, but his positioning and communication was impeccable. El Tri’s No. 1 keeper had 3 saves against Canada and the goal was not his fault. He seems more comfortable with the ball at his feet (a tactical requirement with “Tata”) but his passing skills will be tested with the stiffer competition to come.

Jonathan Orozco – 6.5

90’ v Martinique

His defenders were more to blame for Martinique’s two goals, but it would have been nice if he had covered the near post better on the free kick converted by Kevin Parsemain. Orozco only made one save, and he is a better passer than he showed.

El Tri defense grades
Edson Alvarez patrols the area in front of the central defenders with aplomb. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Edson Álvarez – 8.5

90’ v Canada, 90’ v Martinique

Álvarez is the linchpin and he’ll need to be if the central defense continues to be error-prone. His passing could prove to be more important than his tackling, but he can be a destructive force in the middle of El Tri’s defense. I expect him to embrace the heavy responsibility he’ll bear from here on out.

Carlos Salcedo – 7

77’ v Cuba, 90’ v Martinique

Still not entirely fit, but he stood up well, though the knee injury limits his movement and flexibility. It remains to be seen if “El Titán” is a first-choice starter or if “Tata” will be forced to rotate his gimpy back-liners. The lack of coherence at the back – made worse by the injury to Héctor Moreno – makes El Tri vulnerable.

Diego Reyes – 6

90’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada

He started at holding midfielder against Cuba (not his best position) and in center defense against Canada. His loose passing has caused problems and his lack of playing time showed, as he took poor angles a few times against Canada.

Néstor Araujo – 6.5

El Tri defense grades
Néstor Araujo suffered a lapse of concentration against Canada. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images) /

90’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada

Araujo’s egregious mistake against Canada was shocking and it could have been the reason he did not see action against Martinique (though he seemed to be struggling with fatigue late on, too). Inaccurate passing also knocked his grade down.

“Chaka” Rodríguez – 7

90’ v Cuba, 90’ v Canada

Solid, but not spectacular, performances by the Tigres right back. His lack of positional discipline was minimal (he needs to get back with more urgency) and occasional untidiness with the ball remains an issue.

Jesús Gallardo – 8

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

Gallardo owned the left wing and rampaged up and down the flank. This position could be his for the next 4 to 6 years.

Fernando Navarro – 7

90’ v Martinique

Navarro was adequate, nothing more, and quite active. His goal showed good offensive instincts.

César Montes – 5

13’ v Cuba, 90’ v Martinique

“El Cachorro” made two big mistakes that suggest “Tata” won’t have much faith in him. A terrible giveaway on a careless pass almost led to a goal for Martinique. His foul just outside the box as two teammates encircled a lone Martinique forward led to the free kick that Parsemain deposited in the net to tie the score 1-1.