Lozano’s Mexico ship scuppered by toothless Copa campaign

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mexico‘s vessel has sunk.

Navigating through the choppy waters of the Copa América, El Tri and manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano failed to reach the safety of the tournament’s knockout round after a dismal group stage exit. With four points in hand after Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, the Concacaf side slumped to a final position at third in Group B, thereby leaving them without a place in the quarterfinal stage.

“We have 90 minutes [left] and no one is getting off this ship and we’re going to make it,” said Lozano a few days ahead of the game, knowing he was in a must-win situation after losing 1-0 to Venezuela on Wednesday. “We’re going to make it, of that I’m sure.”

Somewhat symbolically for El Tri, and Lozano’s hot seat on the deck of his ship that would soon capsize, temperatures Sunday reached a sweltering 110 degrees outside of Arizona’s State Farm Stadium that was eventually filled with 62,565 in attendance.

As opposed to the usual pregame tailgate atmosphere at Mexico games that’s often filled with banda, barbecues and beer, the anticipatory parties were limited due to the oppressive heat. With many hiding under shade that did little to cool them off, and others quickly dashing into the air-conditioned venue, celebrations before the match were held to a minimum because of the overbearing desert sun.

Or, perhaps, due to knowing what was about to unfold for a coach and group of Mexico players that have been underwhelming at the Copa.

Similar to what happened against Venezuela, El Tri failed to do enough to capitalize on their chances in the final third. Some fans have pointed to separate situations that could have given Mexico penalties during the match vs. Ecuador, but those decisions ultimately felt like excuses for the Concacaf giants that had enough opportunities to find the back of the net.

“I don’t like to talk a lot about refereeing, it is what it is,” Lozano said post-game about the officiating. “There’s VAR, I think we have more and more tools … I don’t know, and even less so after a match that’s over.”

Lozano should (and will) be criticized for not guiding his team to a victory and for only being able to secure one goal over 270-plus minutes of play in the Copa, but the players themselves should also be seriously questioned. In a project that has aimed to build towards the 2026 World Cup without the likes of aging veterans such as Guillermo Ochoa, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Raúl Jiménez, no player was able to step up Sunday and become the new game-changer or fresh face that can carry Mexico on his shoulders.

A golden platform in a major tournament was given for those next in line, and it became obvious with each passing minute that highly talented attacking players such as Santiago Giménez, Julián Quiñones and César Huerta, among others, were not going to find the back of the net.

“We need to score goals,” Lozano said. “Obviously they have to score goals, but above all, they have to concede as few as possible, and in this tournament, I think the team was very solid defensively.”

Voicing their own frustrations during the dying minutes, Mexico’s fans marred the match with the return of an anti-gay goalkeeper chant, a cowardly response and usual occurrence from El Tri‘s supporters that often emerges in the face of unfavorable results.

A lifeline for Mexico then emerged through a penalty call in injury time after substitute striker Guillermo Martínez was potentially fouled in the 18-yard box; however, the decision was correctly overruled by VAR, cementing the scoreless result.

By the final whistle, Mexico’s vessel had fallen to pieces.

Despite Lozano attempting to force a generational change with his experimental roster, it’s tough to say that any real shifts were made. Promising to build something ahead of the World Cup without high-profile leaders Ochoa, Lozano and Jimenez, there was a sense that El Tri would use the tournament as a testing ground.

One could forgive Lozano if he gave opportunities to the next generation at the risk of failing at the Copa, but the reality is that he played it safe. Not only did Mexico crash out of the group stage, they also did so with conservative in-game roster decisions.

Up-and-comers like Marcelo Flores, Bryan González and Jesús Orozco weren’t given a single minute in the tournament. Of Mexico’s eight players that are under the age of 25, only two (Gimenez and Huerta) were given starts, and of those two, only Gimenez was given more than a single start. Lozano didn’t shake things up roster-wise as much as he simply left out a few of Mexico’s superstars that were past their peak, and then did no risk-taking with his XIs.

Without a place in the knockouts, with no real minutes given to young and promising players, Mexico have re-entered a familiar crisis. As for Lozano, he’ll keep his job for now.

“The project continues,” sporting director Dulio Davino said post-game. “In two weeks, Jimmy will present us with an evaluation of what happened in the summer … we’ll talk with him about everything we can improve. The areas and opportunities that we have, which are surely many, but there are also positives.”

“The project goes to 2026.”

Can Mexico stop their poor run of form before then?

What the Copa highlights is that El Tri‘s failure this summer isn’t an unexpected glitch, it’s part of a wider and ongoing pattern of regression that has now been happening and extending for years. In fact, the only true glitch was Mexico lifting 2023’s Concacaf Gold Cup title.

Mexico are without a trophy in all three of their Nations League runs, they exited the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, they failed to qualify for the 2024 Olympics and now, they have exited the group stage in three of their past four appearances in the Copa.

Mexico’s disastrous early exit in the Copa isn’t shocking; it’s now the norm for a team that once dreamed of becoming a part of the elite on a global scale.

With Lozano still at the helm, the clock is ticking for El Tri with just two years to go until the World Cup. Before they can aspire of success in the major tournament that they’ll co-host, they’re first going to need to pick up and put back together the shattered pieces of what was once a proud ship.

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