Uninspired in the first half, El Tri were more than fortunate to be level at halftime as the Mexican attack could not and seemingly would not spark into life. Only a late goal from a ball over the top that was steered in by Marco Fabian spared the favorites from trailing at the break.
It was unfair for Panama to be level, though. Mexico’s side-to-side passing was getting little results in the face of two banks of four. Panama rarely looked stretched until their defensive line moved too far up.
The underdogs put things right almost immediately to start the second half through a Gabriel Torres flick at the near post. El Tri huffed and puffed but could not muster the needed tallies to draw level or win the match.
Mexico finally had some impetus in the second half once Carlos Pena hit the pitch. The midfielder was one of the few players who looked to get on the ball and create for other teammates, along with goalscorer Fabian.
Therein lay El Tri’s primary problem: When movement was needed from up front, the midfield or anywhere for that matter, Mexico did not get it.
It’s not a new problem. As many draws as Mexico has been involved in this calendar year, one has to wonder why exactly this is a reoccurring theme.
Whether it is by design or not, the players in green seem stuck into little pockets on the pitch. Rarely does one see runs that are not singular in direction, if they make runs at all.
In particular, forwards not named Javier Hernandez are incredibly static in their play. The match with Panama was a particularly damning indictment in this regard.
Fabian was far more fluid than his counterparts, Raul Jimenez and Rafael Marquez Lugo. While Fabian was active on the flanks and making bending runs on the long balls, Jimenez and Lugo rarely even made simple runs of any sort.
The two forwards would occasionally make a move back towards the midfield, but, if nothing came of the movement, they simply walked back to their station. That lack of movement made it incredibly simple for Panama’s back line to remain flat and compact.
What the forwards lacked in movement, the midfield did not make up. Midfielders Adrian Aldrete, Jorge Enriquez and Alejandro Castro passed sideways frequently but rarely moved from their locations as well.
To trouble a stout defense, the midfield and attack must move the defense around with off-the-ball running. Instead of moving toward the ball or simply dragging a defender wide, El Tri's attackers seemed to sit in the same spots right next to the same defenders. The lack of movement from Mexico’s attack made defending very easy for Panama.
This is not to unfairly pile on the Gold Cup roster; rather, this is indicative of Mexico’s performances for much of the calendar year.
The Confederations Cup match with Japan was an example of what El Tri are capable of. The matches with Italy and Brazil showed why Mexico is struggling to break down lesser teams in the Hexagonal qualifiers.
Outside of Giovani dos Santos, Mexico does not get much lateral movement from anybody in the midfield. This lack of fluidity means that the side rarely does more than play down the wings when the real danger the squad produces usually comes from quick interchanges and one-two’s near the box.
Unless De la Torre and his staff start encouraging more foraging runs from the midfield and attack, teams like Panama are going to sit and defend with little need to worry. Mexico has plenty of attacking outlets, but they are being shackled at the moment.
De la Torre should not be out of job regardless of the result of the Gold Cup, but any more setbacks in the Hex qualifiers and the calls for the manager’s head might be answered.