Initially seen as one of the favorites to win one of four direct tickets to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Mexico immediately put themselves in a surprisingly difficult situation after kicking off the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship with a 1- 0 against Jamaica on Monday.
The tournament, in the city of Monterrey in northern Mexico, was to be a showcase of the progress made by a national team program that has not only lived in the shadow of the United States and Canada, but which has not had also failed to qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
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Coupled with a young but thriving women’s top flight across the Liga MX Femenil, and a new generation of talent that has been guided by national team manager Monica Vergara – who coached Mexico on their run to second place at the 2018 U17 Women’s World Cup – El Tri Femenil were ready to go out and become a powerhouse in the CONCACAF region.
Or, as goalkeeper Itzel Gonzalez said in an interview with ESPN earlier this year: “Not just a sense [to be able to reach the next level]but a responsibility.
With a 10-game unbeaten streak heading into Monday’s game, which included nine wins and 52 goals scored, Mexico had high hopes in their opener against Jamaica.
That’s up to eight minutes of play at the Estadio Universitario.
Literally and metaphorically jumping higher than Mexico, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw stunned the home side with a perfect header to put Jamaica ahead from the start. The hosts pushed forward but looked almost dazed as they continued to come up against a sea of yellow shirts who did well in soaking up the pressure, removing midfield options and hitting the Mexico on the counters.
Late in the first half, Jamaica would then be awarded a penalty in the 40th minute. Luckily for Mexico, Havana Solaun kicked the ball over the net to hold the score at halftime.
Desperation started to creep in during the second half. Countless crosses – 25 out of 34 off target – were catapulted as Hail Marys into Jamaica’s 18-yard penalty area. Despite Mexico’s best efforts, it was their rivals with fewer possessions who looked more dangerous when the ball was at their feet.
Led by Lorne Donaldson, a former Major League Soccer assistant coach who gave the national team gig last month, Jamaica were effective when seizing opportunities to counter. In fact, they only had the misfortune to score once after Solaun missed the penalty and Shaw hit the woodwork in the second. However, once the final whistle sounded, it was Jamaica who proudly celebrated the three points as Mexico slowly slipped away from the field.
“I am responsible for this result. Any criticism you have, I take it and I will appreciate it because it helps me grow. I take full responsibility,” Vergara said after the game.
The lesson will be important for the manager who has so far made very few missteps since taking charge in January 2021. Vergara has done a fantastic job of bringing in new faces and trying different options in his calls, but this also seemed to go overboard by using a less than ideal XI against Jamaica.
Up top, she went with the promising but also inexperienced Diana Ordoñez instead of one of her two best strikers in Alicia Cervantes and Katty Martinez. Defensively, there were question marks over Casandra Montero’s surprising backline partnership with Rebeca Bernal instead of Bernal with Cristina Ferral. Diana Garcia’s absence from midfield was also a headache.
It was almost as if Vergara underestimated Jamaica. The same could be said for the noticeable lack of Mexican fans in attendance who likely expected an easy win and had other games – including an upcoming showdown against the United States – and future knockout matches surrounded. on their calendars.
Now, depending on how things go, Mexico might not even qualify for the Round of 16, which would also not qualify them directly for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
In a tournament that will also see the top two teams from each group qualify for the World Cup (the third in the group will take part in a 10-team Inter-Confederation qualifier in 2023), El Tri Femenil are now heavily disadvantaged with a loss. While the USWNT beat Haiti earlier in the day, it is Jamaica who sit in second place in Group A.
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It’s still too early to make different permutations for match results and points, but Mexico may need at least one point or maybe even a win against the USWNT to qualify directly. for the World Cup. That and/or for Haiti, the lowest-ranked team in the group by FIFA, to at least hold Jamaica to a draw on the final day.
As mentioned, however, no matter how dire things seem, fans and the media shouldn’t press the panic button just yet – and for what it’s worth, Vergara and his players haven’t.
“[The loss] does not define us. We will continue our process,” Vergara added. “It’s just a stumble in our path and we’ll be working on our next games.”
Defender Kenti Robles was more candid about whether it was still a crisis for her team.
“Whoever throws in the towel can get off the boat,” Robles said after the loss. “We have two games left and we will fight until the last minute.”
Looking ahead, whatever margin of error Mexico had, it has all but disappeared. Had they won against Jamaica, all the team would have needed was three more points against Haiti on Thursday, regardless of the result against the USWNT next Monday.
Now they can’t afford to make many, if any, mistakes in the group stage. If they do it again, they’ll likely go back into the shadows knowing they’ve missed a priceless opportunity to reach the next level.