By Dylan Butler
ATLANTA – Mexico head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre terms Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match at the Georgia Dome as a “test.” For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click here.
El Tri didn’t achieve straight A’s during the group stage, but there has been steady improvement following a 2-1 loss to Panama 13 days ago at the Rose Bowl.
Now, rested and ready, Mexico faces Trinidad & Tobago with the stakes raised in the knockout stage.
“As time moves on, you always look to improve,” de la Torre said. “These days have been good to fix details that had not been working well for us and to keep improving. It was good to refresh the team a bit. It was a good time for us and hopefully we see that reflected.”
Mexico is rested, but not completely healthy. Jorge Enriquez is still sidelined after sustaining an apparent hamstring injury in a 2-0 victory over Canada during the group stage. The Guadalajara midfielder was subbed off early in the second half and hasn’t played since.
“Jorge is improving,” commented de la Torre. “Yesterday (Thursday) he trained with us, but we’re still evaluating him. He’s still to be determined. We’re not going to risk that improvement that we’ve seen. We want him to continue to get better, not take a step back. We’re going to take it easy until we’re absolutely sure that he’s good.”
Still, de la Torre opted to keep Enriquez, who he said is “day-to-day,” in the squad, while replacing Monterrey midfielder Darvin Chavez with Morelia midfielder Jose Maria Cardenas.
“He is ready to go,” de la Torre said of Cardenas. “He’s had good activity with the team and he is like everybody else, he’s available to start.”
The Soca Warriors also have their own injury concerns. Middlesbrough defender Justin Hoyte resumed light training Friday, but he is still out with a groin injury. Midfielder Kevin Molino will serve a one-game suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards in the group stage and midfielder Khaleem Hyland, who returned to Belgium squad Racing Genk, was replaced by Columbus Crew midfielder Kevan George.
Trinidad & Tobago is still getting acclimated to recently hired head coach Stephen Hart, who made his debut in a 2-2 draw with El Salvador at Red Bull Arena in the opening match of the group stage. But like de la Torre, Hart said that he has seen the improvement in his team with each passing game.
“Our first international game was the game against El Salvador. It is only normal for us to have inconsistency,” Hart said. “But we have progressed in every game, even the [2-0 loss] against Haiti, I didn’t think we played badly, we just didn’t score goals. Hopefully those three games have served us well to take on the challenge of Mexico.”
While the challenge of facing Mexico is certainly daunting, the Soca Warriors have been up to the task before. The last meeting between the two sides came in a World Cup qualifier in Port of Spain, a 2-2 draw on Oct. 14, 2009. Before that, Mexico defeated Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 at Estadio Azteca on June 10, 2009.
“Traditionally Mexico is a powerhouse in CONCACAF and remains that way,” Hart said. “But it’s one game and anything can happen in one game. We have to learn from the experiences from the past game and how we played and be prepared, take care of all the details and hopefully we have a good match.”
The Soca Warriors are hoping to ride the momentum from a dramatic 2-0 victory over Honduras in its group stage finale into Saturday’s quarterfinal.
“After the win against Honduras, it was a big motivation for the team,” goalkeeper Cleon John said. “We put up a really tough fight. Mexico is a big team over here, but after that victory we’re also coming in on a high, too.”
The quarterfinal will be a big test for both teams. Mexican forward Rafael Marquez Lugo believes his squad has made great strides and intends to showcase that Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
“The team has done well, has been growing,” he said. “I hope tomorrow we can show that advancement and what we’ve been able to focus on this week.”