So far, so good for Mexico interim manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano.
Hired just a few days before the start of the 2023 Gold Cup, and after the firing of former coach Diego Cocca, the 44-year-old Mexico City native has carried El Tri through a spot at first in Group B and a recent 2-0 victory over Costa Rica in the quarterfinal round.
He’s had some bumps along the way — notably in a 1-0 loss to Qatar in the group stage — but Lozano has at least kept Mexico alive in a tournament that they’re desperate to win. With an early exit in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup and a discouraging place at third in last month’s Concacaf Nations League finals, the team is in dire need of a mood-lifting championship.
Lozano has righted El Tri‘s ship at the Gold Cup, but ahead of a challenging semifinal against Jamaica on Wednesday in Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, questions remain for Mexico in their quest for a title.
Who will start in the midfield and up top?
In the heart of the XI, things are up in the air.
“We don’t know how he’s doing, well, we know how he’s doing but we don’t know if it’s going to be possible that he participates tomorrow,” said Lozano on Tuesday about defensive midfielder Edson Alvarez, who suffered a recent knock. “We’ll wait, surely, until the last minute…if he’s at 100%, without a doubt he’ll be taken into consideration.”
With questions regarding the health of Alvarez, that then means that Luis Romo will likely move back into his position, leaving one of the two attack-minded midfield roles up for grabs alongside Luis Chavez. The easy answer would be a return to the XI for the well-rounded Erick Sanchez, a 22-year-old that is an exciting box-to-box player. Carlos Rodriguez, although lacking defensive coverage, is also a possible option with his playmaking.
At the No. 9 position, there are also no guarantees that a veteran like Henry Martin will hold onto his starting spot. Despite the 30-year-old’s excellent hold-up play and shot-creating actions, he has only found the back of the net once at the Gold Cup, which has led to arguments for the up-and-coming Santiago Gimenez. The 22-year-old Feyenoord star is far from a finished product, but Gimenez brings a wealth of speed and touches in the opposition’s final third.
After impressing as a substitute in the quarterfinal win over Costa Rica, will Gimenez earn just his second start of the tournament against Jamaica?
Why Mexico’s performance vs. Costa Rica was not convincing
Mauricio Pedroza explains why he thinks Costa Rica were the better team and how Mexico just survived.
Has Lozano done enough to fully revive Mexico?
The good news: On paper, things are looking great for Mexico.
Their expected-goal rate (xG) of 1.76 is the second-highest in the tournament, they’ve only allowed two goals in four matches, and most importantly, they’re quickly thriving under Lozano’s system.
“They already know me, they already know how I work, I think they identify with and like the way we play,” said the coach who previously led a strong core of the team to a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics. “We try to be protagonists, sometimes for better or worse we’ll have the ball, but we’ll always try to advance.”
The bad news: Understandably, there are still remnants of the issues that have hurt the national team in recent months.
Regardless of their second-best xG in the Gold Cup, they’re only fourth overall with goals scored (9) thanks to their finishing that needs improvement. There have been occasional disconnects within the roster through distribution and decision-making, which was showcased in the loss to Qatar. Their possession in the opposition’s half of the pitch, although typically high, can at times still feel ponderous, a lingering problem from the Cocca era.
“In a club you have a preseason or you have a full week, here we practically had three days [before the Gold Cup], and you can’t change much,” said Lozano.
Time will tell if he’s had enough of a runway to continue patching things up before the match against Jamaica.
Can Mexico avoid a catastrophic end to the summer?
After the issues at the World Cup and the embarrassing end to the Nations League, which featured a humbling 3-0 loss to their U.S. rivals in the semifinal round, Mexico must, at the very least, qualify for the Gold Cup final.
As the all-time leaders in championships (8) in the tournament, El Tri need to win this summer’s title in order to help regain some of their status that has been waning over the last two to three years. Especially important is the fact that trophy contenders like the U.S. and Canada didn’t even send their best rosters to the Gold Cup, instead opting to rest many of their top European-based stars.
The problem is, Jamaica won’t make things easy this Wednesday in Mexico’s journey towards a possible title.
“We’re aware of Jamaica’s attack, we know that they counterattack very well, they hurt us a lot the last time we played against them in the [Estadio] Azteca,” said defender Johan Vazquez ahead of the match.
“If we go back, I don’t know, six or seven years ago and look at Jamaica and look at them now, there’s nothing in common. And much of it [has to do with] the players, in the leagues and teams they’re in,” stated Mexico’s interim.
“Without a doubt, they’re a strong team.”
By the way, the last time that Mexico failed to qualify for a Gold Cup final? That was back in 2017 after losing to Jamaica 1-0 in the semifinal round.