Three weeks ago, Mexico played the United States in a friendly before the World Cup. At half, the score was 1-1. At full time, the score was 5-1. Both scorelines felt about right.
Sometimes, teams are completely overmatched and more or less get pounded into the ground from the opening kickoff. But more often, a gulf in talent is the culmination of a multitude of smaller cracks that wear on a team all over the pitch over the course of a match.
Mexico have 12 players who were either born or raised stateside on their roster, three college players, and five more who aren’t attached to a single team. For the American contingent, the Mexican national team offered things the USWNT couldn’t, like a squad number, a ticket to Canada, and playing time. (Sound familiar?)
Las Tri, it should be noted, aren’t particularly good. They’re essentially the United States B-team, and have only participated in two World Cups prior to this one. They’ve never won in the tournament. In 2011, they sent waves through the sport when they qualified for the World Cup after beating the USWNT in the semifinal of CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament. They’ve only participated in the Olympics once, in 2010, finishing eighth.
Mexico are fortunate to be on hand for this summer’s tournament after finding themselves down to Trinidad and Tobago, 2-1, with 12 minutes to play, in the third-place match of CONCACAF qualifying. The winner would go to Canada; the loser would have the summer off. Mexican forward Mónica Ocampo scored in the 79th minute to pull level. Charlyn Corral, one-time Louisville Cardinal, scored twice in overtime to give Mexico the 4-2 victory.
Defender Alina Garciamendez was a standout player at Stanford, but now she’s in dental school. Winger Teresa Noyola won the award for best college player in America at Stanford, following in the footsteps of Stanford teammates Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara. Of the three, Noyola was the only one who didn’t make the USWNT’s full side. With so many Americans on the tournament roster, it’ll be instructive to see how or if Mexico handle Group F foes France, England, and Colombia. Skulduggery aside, Mexico will be overmatched against France, and likely against England, but could still make it to the knockout stages with a win against Colombia in their home opener.
What’ll be interesting to watch is how Mexico struggle. They most likely won’t be passed off the pitch in the first few minutes. The cracks usually form as the match wears on. There are players in the world and in their group that are too athletic, or too talented. But players like Corral, Garciamendez, and Noyola have been holding their own, talent-wise, with the best players America has to offer for years. The question is how long they can do so. How is their fitness? How is their concentration? How long can they last without making a mistake in a pressured situation against better-coached, better-funded teams? The answer is generally the difference between a 1-1 score, and a 5-1 score.
But though Mexico aren’t particularly good, they are better than Colombia. In this year’s newly-expanded World Cup, Las Tri may be able to hold on long enough to finish third and advance, alongside the USWNT, for the first time in Mexico’s history.
Goalkeepers: Emily Alvarado (Texas Rush), Cecilia Santiago (Unattached), Pamela Tajonar (Sevilla FC).
Defenders: Greta Espinoza (Arizona Strikers), Alina Garciamendez (Unattached), Valeria Miranda (Pumas UNAM), Christina Murillo (University of Michigan), Kenti Robles (RCD Espanyol), Arianna Romero (Washington Spirit), Bianca Sierra (Boston Breakers).
Midfielders: Mónica Alvarado (Texas Christian University), Fabiola Ibarra (Club Tijuana), Stephany Mayor (UDLA Puebla), Teresa Noyola (Houston Dash), Amanda Perez (University of Washington), Veronica Perez (Washington Spirit), Nayeli Rangel (Unattached), Jennifer Ruiz (Unattached), Maria Sánchez (Unattached).
Forwards: Ariana Calderon (IBV Vestmannaeyjar), Charlyn Corral (Merilappi United), Renae Cuéllar (Washington Spirit), Mónica Ocampo (Sky Blue FC).
Las Tri (The Tri(-colors))
We know they’ll most likely set out in a 4-4-2, and we know they’ll most likely try to play freely, especially against Colombia in their first match. Noyola is one to watch, as is Corral, who has scored 15 goals in just 28 appearances for her country. But more telling will be how this team handles their World Cup opponents.
The Mexicans have a tendency to get outgunned by teams with powerful, athletic options, and both France and England averaged over five goals a game in World Cup qualifying. If they can keep the games close, they could stick around Canada for a bit longer than expected. If not, it may not matter how they play against Colombia.
June 9, 4 p.m.: Colombia vs. Mexico at Moncton Stadium
June 13, 4 p.m.: England vs. Mexico at Moncton Stadium
June 17, 4 p.m.: Mexico vs. France at Landsdowne Stadium
All times Eastern
Photo Credit: Associated Press