As we bid farewell to the European Championship and Copa America this weekend, our little corner of the world welcomed the Gold Cup back to DFW for its opening fixtures of the 2021 competition.
El Salvador v Curaçao was due to be the kick off early on Saturday at Toyota Stadium but for a COVID-enforced reshuffling meant that Curaçao dropped out in favor of Guatemala, and a rescheduled Sunday night kick-off in Frisco. Perhaps that righted a wrong, giving Mexico center stage at El Tri’s home from home – AT&T Stadium – against the US Men’s National Team’s other noted foe, Trinidad & Tobago.
If Mexico needed a local interest, Rogelio Funes Mori could well be it. The former FC Dallas academy forward completed his one-time switch from Argentina to Mexico in time for a call-up to the tournament. After a goal scoring debut a week prior, the former Frisco resident would get the start opposite a former FC Dallas defender in Aubrey David.
The game started as expected, in and around the Soca Warriors’ box. A mass of blocked shots gave way to a call for a penalty as Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano appeared to be pushed over in the box. While the referee waved away the penalty claim, and Hector Herrera saw a cracking effort from the edge of the area hit the post and the goalkeeper’s head, Lozano remained motionless on the ground. Replays showed the aftermath of the tackle, with Lozano taking goalkeeper Marvin Phillip’s knee to the face. The Napoli star was taken off the field on a stretcher to be replaced by LA Galaxy forward Efrain Alvarez.
Remarkably Edson Alvarez was booked for remonstrating with the referee about his ailing team mate as AT&T Stadium added yet another name to the list of Mexican players to suffer an injury in Arlington.
“We felt very bad to see the pictures after the game, but we got reports that he is fine and getting surgery. But he’s fine, which is the important part, and we’re just a supporting him.”Efrain Alvarez on the injury sustained by Hirving Lozano.
The formerly local Funes Mori released Jesus Corona in the T&T area for one of the ‘home’ team’s better chances in the 28th minute. Corona turned a defender but Phillip’s knee-first slide got all ball this time, deflecting wide. Corona did well to keep the ball in play, sighting a second chance from a tight angle that Jelani Peters managed to block on the line.
If Trinidad & Tobago had a goalless draw on their minds, it showed as early as 35 minutes as former OKC Energy full back Alvin Jones intercepted a lazy pass between two Mexican defenders and instinctively ran the ball to the corner as if to close the game out in stoppage time.
A wasteful first half produced 19 shots and 78% possession while restricting Trinidad & Tobago to only 28 completed passes. More importantly, the teams were somehow still level and El Tri had a key player taken to a medical facility.
“The tactics that we received was to go out and defend collectively, and give it our best. In the second half, more ball handlers would come on and we could try to expand a little more.”Tristan Hodge explains coach Angus Eve’s game plan for playing Mexico.
The Soca Warriors came out for the second half looking to deal a bloody nose to the Group A favorites having come through such a beating thus far unscathed. With nine behind the ball, Angus Eve was looking for his players to absorb pressure and catch Mexico on the break. It took close to an hour but T&T had its first strong sight at goal and forced its first corner.
The party atmosphere in AT&T Stadium became subdued as it had with the Chucky Lozano incident. A brief chant of ‘Si se puede’ went up, perhaps at a time the Mexico team needed to know ‘yes you can’.
The game and crowd fell into a lull until Funes Mori brought everything back to life in the 75th minute, but it was Phillip once again the hero. Herrera chipped the ball deftly over the Trini back line, with the Argentine-born forward hanging off the shoulder of the last defender to beat the offside trap. Funes Mori took a touch and shot low only to see the ball hit Phillip’s trailing arm before the T&T keeper could fall on the ball to keep possession.
With the final five minutes looming, Phillip’s man of the match credentials didn’t need reinforcing but tipping wide a spectacular 25 yard shot that was dipping into the top corner from Hector Herrera certainly sealed it.
Unfortunately as frustrations in the crowd boiled over, a certain word yelled at goalkeepers came out moments later on a goal kick. The referee called a halt to the game as a video of Memo Ochoa – currently in Japan with the Mexican Olympic roster – politely reminded everyone to be nice while step one of Concacaf’s anti-discrimination protocol ran its course.
“I think after the first one, maybe not. But it was three occasions? Probably yes, because we need to stamp these these kind of behaviors out a sport. I thought that after hearing it third time that he had to stop the match.”Trinidad & Tobago coach Angus Eve on the referee potentially abandoning the game due to discriminatory chanting.
As the game ticked into stoppage time Mexico had the ball in the back but an offside call kept the Soca Warriors fighting. A ball came down the left to Hector Moreno who had strayed into an offside position. Moreno crossed low for Funes Mori to turn in at the front post. The stadium erupted with the full range of emotions as joy turned to anger. The referee was forced to bring the players to the center circle again, and soon after a further threat of abandonment was announced over the public address system.
Trinidad & Tobago almost stole the game at the death through Reon Moore. The lone striker raced on to a loose ball, almost through on goal before a perfectly timed tackle by Luis Rodriguez killed the opportunity. Moore was gifted another chance at goal seconds later as another sloppy pass in the Mexico back line was intercepted. Alfredo Talavera rushed off his line to knock the ball away from Moore, scrambling to prevent Moore regaining possession.
The final whistle was met with a chorus of boos from the 41,229 in at attendance while the Trinidad & Tobago players celebrated a crucial point in the race to qualify for the knockout stage.