Saturday, June 23, 2007

Pre-final view: Tri D

In case you are anxiously awaiting the Gold Cup final but haven't paid too much attention to El Tricolor, please allow me to get you up to speed on Mexico. I figure I'll try and break down the team unit by unit and get you as much caught up with Mexico as I can.

I'm starting in the back, as that unit appears to be getting better (at least statistically) as the tournament has progressed.

Oswaldo Sanchez figures to be in goal. Guillermo Ochoa played the opener and hasn't been used since. Sanchez is quite a familiar face and many Americans remember him right now for the cheap shot he took on Eddie Johnson on Feb. 7. Since then, Sanchez has overcome a pretty severe shoulder injury, led his club team (Santos) to the Mexican league playoffs and secured his spot as Mexico's number one goalkeeper. Ochoa guided America to the Clausura finals but Sanchez looks like he'll be the first-choice 'keeper for the short- and long-term.

Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez has used a four-man backline. Against the U.S., expect to see Ricardo Osorio on the right, Jonny Magallon and Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez in the center and Carlos Salcido on the left. The fullbacks both won European league titles last season but have underperformed in the Gold Cup. Perhaps it's the affects of a long and demanding calendar that is finally taking its toll but Osorio and Salcido promised much more before the tournament. In the first few games, the duo was part of a defense that gave up far too many opportunities. Despite beating Panama 1-0, the Panamanians sliced through the defense like nothing for most of the match but came away with only a few shots off the post. Salcido, though, is dangerous on the attack and took more offensive liberties against Guadeloupe than he had in any of the other games he'd played before then.

Magallon and Rodriguez are teammates on Chivas. Magallon hasn't played well overall, though he has long been a solid performer in league. Rodriguez was on the World Cup team last year and is better than most give him credit for. Rodriguez is tall and rail-thin and positions himself well. Actually, the two played with Salcido for several seasons in Guadalajara, though Magallon was used mostly in the midfield.

Ramon Morales was in the mix before the tournament started but has not played in recent games. Rafael Marquez is back with the team but has not played a game since April. Expecting a full 90 minutes from him against the U.S. seems like it's asking too much but perhaps the unsettled backline could force Hugo Sanchez's hand.

What the backline lacks, though, is speed. In their 2-0 loss to the U.S., Landon Donovan burned Salcido on the breakaway goal at the end of the game. For all his worth, Salcido has little speed to speak of. Rodriguez and Magallon are not burners either and Osorio seems to have more speed on the offensive side than on the defense end of things.

Mexico will have to neutralize the Americans' speed. If the U.S. goes with Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson, that will be a tall order for Mexico.

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