After 90 minutes of thoroughly entertaining, or heartbreaking, depending on where your loyalties stand, action at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mexico are set to face Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
El Tri only have themselves to blame for finishing second in Group C to Trinidad and Tobago, who they played to a 4-4 draw with on Wednesday night. Now, with three days in between the draw in the final group game and the clash with Costa Rica, Mexico have plenty of things to work on.
The biggest concern Miguel Herrera's side has to take out of the draw with Trinidad and Tobago is the awful defending that allowed the Soca Warriors to claw back into the match on a few occasions. Herrera noted the imperfections after the match, per ESPN's El Tri Twitter account:
On the first Trinidad and Tobago goal, Keron Cummings was left wide open on the left side of the penalty area before he punched in his team's opener of the chaotic contest. Kenwyne Jones exploited more gaps in the El Tri back four on his 58th-minute equalizer. Jones was able to zig-zag his way through the duo of Yasser Corona and Diego Reyes before he slotted his goal past Guillermo Ochoa.
Adding to the confusion at the back was the inability to track back and catch Cordell Cato on the right wing before he crossed the ball over to Jones. Andres Guardado was the closest Mexico player to Cato, but he didn't seem very interested in sprinting back to either make a tackle or deflect the ball out for a corner.
Things went from bad to worse for El Tri in the 67th minute, when Cummings benefited from some lovely hold-up play by Jones. The Cardiff City forward outmuscled Francisco Rodriguez off a throw-in and chested the ball into open space for Cummings to shoot. A lackadaisical approach from Miguel Layun and Corona also allowed Cummings to step into space and send his rocket of a shot into the back of the net.
Just as the defense looked to be bailed out by the attack, Yohance Marshall rose above Oribe Peralta and an incoming Rodriguez to nod in a stoppage-time equalizer for Stephen Hart's side. The concession of the fourth goal capped off a brutal second half for a back line that needed to earn a bit more confidence heading into the knockout stage.
Luckily for the El Tri defense, Costa Rica haven't been dangerous in the final third for long stretches of the tournament. But that could all change if Bryan Ruiz is able to pick out pockets of space. Layun and Paul Aguilar will have to initially stop Ruiz, but the rest of the defense has to be relied on as well if Ruiz cuts into the middle of the park in an attempt to open up the back line for his teammates.
As the second half progressed, the El Tri defense mimicked the poor performance of their leader, Rodriguez. The owner of 104 caps was far from impressive when he needed to shut down Jones, and his inability to mark properly on the final Trinidad and Tobago goal went down as his final mistake.
But as much as we want to blame the Mexico back four for everything that went wrong in Charlotte, the attackers must carry the weight of the blame as well. The biggest miss of the night came from Carlos Vela, who had a chance to put Mexico ahead 3-1 just seconds after Cummings netted his first strike. If the Real Sociedad man was able to put his second goal of the night into the net, Mexico would have had some space to close out the game and play a bit more relaxed.
However, the overall trend of poor finishing ultimately hurt El Tri as they came up short in their quest to avoid Costa Rica until the semi-final round. Mexico attempted 22 shots in the 4-4 draw, but only six of them went on target, per MLSSoccer.com. Although he did score on a piece of individual brilliance in the 51st minute, Vela only recorded one shot on target.
Giovani Dos Santos, who exited at the half with a right thigh injury, per Fox Sports' Francisco X. Rivera, and his replacement Peralta combined for two shots off target. That low production level is simply unacceptable in a tournament that Mexico must win to keep the dream of competing in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup alive.
The high level of inefficiency in front of goal has been a scary trend throughout the group stage for Herrera's side. Despite netting six strikes against Cuba, Mexico only put 18 of their 44 attempts on goal, per MLSSoccer.com. Three days later, in the 0-0 draw against Guatemala, four of their 19 shots went on target, per MLSSoccer.com.
Poor finishing will eventually catch up to Mexico, if it hasn't already, and that combined with the shaky defending shown on Wednesday, will not keep El Tri in the competition for long.
The good news is Herrera has three days to fix all of the issues with his team, but the personnel will likely stay the same. Mexico are getting bad performances out of their stars like Vela and Dos Santos, who, when healthy, are required to be in the starting 11.
Mexico are starting to brew a recipe for disaster. If no adjustments are made and focus still remains a problem on Sunday, El Tri could be out of the Gold Cup and looking for a new manager.
Joe Tansey is covering the Gold Cup for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.