Mexican soccer legend and former FMF goalkeeper Martin "El Pulpo" Zuniga won the Verano 1997 tournament with Chivas de Guadalajara and played that same year with the Mexican national team. He is in Columbus on Behalf of Allstate supporting the Mexican National Team.
Zuniga shared his thoughts ahead the USA vs. Mexico World Cup qualifying match about the importance of the game in "El Tri’s" future.
Karla Villegas Gama: Martin, a very important and complicated match for "El Tri."
Martin Zuniga: There is always a first, huh? I hope tomorrow will be that day. We have to confide in the players' capacity and personality. It is true that the team did not take advantage when playing at the Estadio Azteca and people believe that players lacked the guts to overcome adversity. There is no tomorrow for Mexico. We have seen this team very compromised before, and they have come through, so let's hope it happens.
KVG: How much can the arrival of Luis Fernando Tena help the team?
MZ: The best thing of this is that he has already worked closely with them. Being side by side with Jose Manuel de la Torre gives him knowledge regarding what the players have done, good or bad. Many people think that it will be the same old thing; however, just being aside helps you see the bigger picture without all the pressure. Tena can implement what he thinks Chepo could not do. If we had a brand-new coach, two or three days would not have been enough to be immerse in the team.
KVG: Tena knows many of these players from the Toulon Tournament and the Summer Olympics, will this be a factor?
MZ: We will see some changes, I am certain. Somehow, he has to bring to the table all the success he has achieved. The Mexicans have to stay positive, this change can be a key factor in the players' motivation.
KVG: How about the lineup?
MZ: I don’t think there is much to change. Of course he has to take action on Gerardo Torrado's absence, as he is ineligible. He has some good footballers to fill his position like Jesus Zavala, who has been playing good, or Fernando Arce. He can also put Carlos Salcido as a defensive midfielder and bring in Jorge Torres Nilo as a left-back. I believe Javier Hernandez will start. Tena has a tough task ahead, as he needs to find new ways to battle a team like the United States that has been doing great things so far.
KVG: The United States have had a slow but productive process. How good is it for Mexico that players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore will miss the game?
MZ: They are cornerstones of the team. It is a sensitive matter for them, but the United States has a style of play that goes beyond those who miss the game. Speaking of effort, dedication and mindset, they are all at the same level and that is their main strength. So when one of those players that have better technique or tactic cannot make it, whoever takes their place has the mentality and responsibility to give it all. Therefore, I do not think we will see much change in that sense. Like Mexico, the United States always play this game as the most important. Mexico need to improve and stay focused.
KVG: This venue has always been difficult for Mexico. There is little support, compared to the games played in other cities. Will it be even tougher now that "El Tri" is going through a rough patch?
MZ: I do not think so. It is true that, in the States, Mexico usually plays as the local team. The Columbus Crew Stadium is not that big, it can host around 20,000 spectators, in Mexico we have bigger ones, for sure. I think it has to do with mindset. It has been a long time since they won a World Cup qualifier in the United States. Also, the fans are different, they do not push as much as the Central Americans or South Americans.
KVG: Aside from the result, what happens if Mexico lose?
MZ: It could be fatal. Not only for the players, but also for the country. I have rarely felt such a diminished ambiance. Most of the TV shows as well as the football specialists are sad, like I have never seen them. They are confused by the way Mexico is playing. It is time to turn things around and fast, because they have less than a month to prepare for the game against Panama at the Azteca and try to secure a spot in the playoff.
KVG: Is a draw enough to change the way things have been going?
MZ: I think a draw will be good to end the bad streak against the United States. Of course, I want Mexico to win, but we have to be aware of the rival we have in front. It is a very tough team that comes in good shape, regardless of the defeat against Costa Rica. And of course the draw is just the first step; we need to wait for Panama’s results. This matchday will be key, and there will be some exciting changes.
KVG: Which is the key to get the draw?
MZ: Concentration. That will be fundamental. There are times that a team does not work as a group, but if the players fulfill their individual tasks, at least you are doing little things to overcoming the adversity. If you start to put the pieces together little by little, then you can deal with tough situations. What happened against Honduras was that there was not individual effort, let alone teamwork.
KVG: Your prediction?
MZ: I say, 1-1 draw.