Before Mexico's game against Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, national-team coach Javier Aguirre talked about three Gs:
Ganar. Gustar. Golear. (Win. Enjoy. Rout.)
While one out of three isn't terrible -- Mexico ganó -- it did little to erase fears over the current state of the Mexican national team. El Tri closed out the first half of its Hexagonal participation with a 2-1 win over T&T, but overall, Mexico has been ghastly, grim and at times downright god-awful.
Now, El Tri faces a task that will undoubtedly test the team in ways it hasn't been in at least eight years. How will it respond? Mexico sits in fourth place and is currently out of the World Cup qualifying picture, at least directly. Fourth place is good enough for a two-game series against South America's fifth-place team, with the winner booking the final ticket to South Africa.
Mexican players are mostly talking the talk despite failing to put forth satisfactory and consistent performances. "We will go to the World Cup," Cuauhtémoc Blanco told reporters after helping Mexico collect three points against Trinidad.
But the road is not quite as straightforward and is, in fact, muddied. Depending on other results, Mexico could win out at home and not finish in the top three. Or even worse, the team could drop points at home and find itself on the outside looking in. Everything is seemingly up in the air for El Tri, as the team has shown little improvement from the start of the Hexagonal round through the fifth game.
In two home games, Mexico followed the script and won convincingly. But in three away games, Mexico's play ranged from decent in stretches to atrocious in others. Simply changing coaches for the third time since March 2008 will not suffice.
"The team needs a lot still," Aguirre said Wednesday night. "It needs to work, and it needs to work together. [Against Trinidad] it needed to kill the game."
Mexico has two months to try and sort things out. On Aug. 12, it will host the U.S. when World Cup qualifying resumes. To say that match is critical would be an understatement. Mexico cannot afford to drop any of its remaining nine points at home.
In these upcoming months, Mexico must gather, goad and galvanize itself. The CONCACAF Gold Cup will help. If nothing else, the tournament will give Aguirre a chance to sort out his team and get some much-needed games under his belt. Building depth is a luxury at this point -- Aguirre needs players who can step in and perform instead of the same tired antics from the likes of Fernando Arce and Aarón Galindo, a pair of Mexico's several underperforming players.
Aguirre seems to have hooked his wagon to 36-year-old veteran goalkeeper Óscar Pérez, whose national-team career appeared dead and dusted before Aguirre's arrival. But "El Conejo" helped Aguirre capture a World Cup spot before and the coach is banking on some of his keeper's 2001 magic. Veterans seem to play a vital role in Aguirre's team, and Pérez will need the Gold Cup to help settle his nerves, acclimate himself to being back on the national team and -- most importantly -- get up-to-speed on the field. Pérez's last game for Mexico was in '05 as an emergency replacement for OswaldoSánchez.
Blanco, too, also 36, has been handed a prominent role on the squad once more, as his captain's armband against Trinidad would attest. But Blanco isn't on the Gold Cup roster Mexico released earlier this week. He has, though, has been performing at a high level for the Chicago Fire since arriving in MLS two years ago.
Mexico also must use the Gold Cup as a time to carry Aguirre's ideas over into games and help begin to build the semblance of continuity, which is not easy given the team's situation. What the team must not do is gripe, groan or grumble over the Hexagonal's first half. The lessons learned were harsh and bitter ones, and Mexico must make a monumental effort in order to overcome this bad stretch.
Mexico failed to win in Central America on two separate occasions but El Tri will have to face perhaps the toughest Central American team on its turf when it visits Costa Rica on Sept. 5 in San José's Estadio Saprissa. A change of mentality by then could reap large rewards, but a continuance of the mistakes from the Hex thus far could sink El Tri even further.
Whatever path Mexico takes, the team must restore faith. The players need a jolt of confidence. The coaching staff needs the players' devotion while the fans and Mexican media alike need reasons to believe. Because if Mexico drops even one home result, the team's hopes for South Africa will be three entirely different Gs:
Going. Going. Gone.