GC Daily: Should we worry about Mexico?

Quick reactions, details, and one longer article on the day's Concacaf Gold Cup action.

GC Daily: Should we worry about Mexico?
Steph Mayor (middle, in green) cuts a frustrated figure for Mexico | Concacaf

Note: Welcome to Gold Cup Daily. A quick snapshot of the tournament's action from the day before (beginning), some extra words on the day's main talking point (middle), and key details of the next matches (at the end).

Tuesday's Group A results:
Mexico 0-0 Argentina
USA 5-0 Dominican Republic


On the face of it, this was your usual United States making tremendously light work of the D.R. But under the surface, this was a fun iteration of the Stars and Stripes.

We saw a fluid and amoebic 3-2-4-1 formation that featured plenty of young players. Four had under 10 caps for their country. Experimentation leads to innovation. And while it wasn't perfect (32 shots and just 10 hit the target), this was zippy and new. Per Wyscout, the USA completed 200 forward passes last night, the most since at least 2015.

To deal with DR dropping very deep, interim USA coach Twila Kilgore made the pitch as big as possible and winger Midge Purce ate up her role on the right flank putting in a virtuoso showing. The winger had two assists, and a big hand in another goal.

It's not all over for the DR yet. With two third-place finishers making it through to the quarterfinals, they likely only need to beat either Mexico or Argentina to give themselves a shot.

The USA match was always going to be tricky for the DR. And, well until two last-minute penalty kicks the scoreline didn't look that bad. This was a lesson in defending and sticking to the task. Chin up.

Speaking of defending, Argentina also felt like sitting back and asking Mexico to come at them. While showing very little composure going forward, the Albiceleste plugged the box and made life very difficult for their opponent.

Playing a classic 4-4-2, head coach Germán Portanova had both centre midfielders drop in or wide to help get extra bodies at the back. Argentina didn't risk ever having a the numbers not go in their favour. They were quick to smother, press and rely on others dropping into place. Special mentions go to Vanina Ailen Preininger and Sophia Braun.

Yes, it should be said that they got lucky when Rebecca Bernal missed her penalty kick in the 10th minute. If that goes in, it's a very different game. And a sign, that with VAR in play, fouls will be picked up in the box.

Maybe it was an unadventurous approach? Maybe Argentina needed to have more of a counter-attacking presence? How long can they play like they are just in survival mode, knocking it long at almost every opportunity?

But it got one point on the board. A platform. Something to show for a tussle against - on paper - a more talented and more in form side. With just three shots attempted, one on target, and an xG of 0.2, there is plenty of room for Argentina to grow.

Sophia Braun challenges the ball off of Jackie Ovalle | Courtesy of Concacaf

Should we worry about Mexico?

With an xG of 2.12 (according to Opta), there is an argument to be made that Mexico got unlucky. Even if you take away the penalty miss, they created a fair amount of chances (15 shots, four on target, 1.44 xG).

Mexico head coach Pedro Lopez felt this way. "I don't think 0-0 is fair for Mexico," he said after the match.

Bernal missed a near open goal at the back post in the 80th minute, substitute Jasmine Casarez similarly had a hooked effort at the back post go wide when it looked easier to steer it in.

The former is a consummate penalty taker for her club, Rayadas, while the latter has been a sniper in LigaMX Femenil for Juarez, when it comes to close-range one-touch finishing. Club and country, night and day.

It was concerning. But more than anything, Mexico fans will have PTSD after watching their match against Argentina.

The last time we saw El Tri play a competitive footy tournament of a similar calibur was when they hosted the 2022 World Cup qualifying tournament in Monterrey. A doomed week that brought the federation to its knees, Mexico lost all three matches (against Haiti, Jamaica and the USA), failed to score a single goal and swiftly dismissed manager Monica Vergara in the aftermath.

Some of the same problems arose on Tuesday night. The shirt looked heavy on the players. It's hard to know if it's outside pressure or something to do with the environment within, but Mexico don't look comfortable trying to play their game.

While chance creation wasn't terrible, the finishing was. And it felt like the more Mexico found themselves in a position to take hold of the game the more the players struggled to keep their bottle. Bernal's shanked penalty miss that went way wide was emblematic of this.

The Ovalle-Sanchez conundrum

Tactically speaking, Lopez's decision to play both Jackie Ovalle and Maria Sanchez on the left-hand side could come under criticism. Offering a similar skillset, the duo have not often started together for their country and certainly not on the same flank or in a quasi-central role.

Against Argentina, Mexico were set up in a 4-4-1-1/4-3-3 with Ovalle in the free role behind Steph Mayor, the centre forward. Sanchez was on the left of the midfield when in a four or a free.

With Ovalle tending to drift left from the 'No.10' position or to start left as a wide forward in the 4-3-3, Sanchez's preferred spaces on the wing became occupied.

Thus the space the Houston Dash winger found was in the middle, by underlapping. All three of Sanchez's shots came from central positions with Ovalle two on her left.

On the one hand, Sanchez being more of a central goal threat could be beneficial to the team. But of the shots she got, two were on her weaker right foot, because she cut in from the left, and the other was on her head. Good positions for Sanchez, but not maximizing her skillset as a tricky winger and crosser.

Looking at the numbers alone, Sanchez created zero chances from open play, attempted one cross, and won 50% of her six dribbles; Ovalle was slightly better, creating three open play chances, attempting four crosses, and winning 80% of her five dribbles.

Lopez doesn't have a talent problem, he has a system problem. And yes, it might be premature to call out this combination of players, who haven't started together very often after one game.

But it's clear that two of Mexico's best players, Sanchez and Ovalle, struggled to collaborate or produce the moments we know they're capable of. Another run out against the DR might help solve the issues. Or perhaps, a tweak to the system is required. Or either Sanchez or Ovalle sitting on the bench.

A visibly calm Lopez ended his post-match press conference with this: "I trust a lot in my work, in the work of my staff, and in the players that I am lucky enough to coach. It will be a lot of work and we keep moving forward."

NEXT: Wed. 21 Feb. Group B fixtures:
Colombia v Panama | 7:30 p.m. ET
Brazil v Puerto Rico | 10:15 p.m. ET