Both El Tri and Les Grenadiers will be tested by Tuesday’s semifinal coming so quickly after Saturday’s tightly contested quarterfinal matches
Saturday play, Sunday travel, Monday train and Tuesday play again. It’s a packed schedule for the Mexico national team and their Haitian opponents ahead of Tuesday’s semifinal.
Nearly a whole week passed from El Tri’s final group match and Saturday’s victory over Costa Rica on penalties on Saturday. Only three days will go by until they play for the right to move into the final. That quick turnaround could force manager Tata Martino to make some modifications, especially with his group already hard-hit by injuries.
Nowhere is he more likely to be forced into alterations than in the midfield – a place where El Tri does have a fair amount of depth but one where injuries recently have hit hard.
Erick Gutierrez’s tournament all but ended after he left the 3-1 win over Canada in Denver with a hamstring problem, though the PSV midfielder is back in training. That meant a heavy amount of minutes for veteran Andres Guardado, a challenge he has accepted. But on a yellow card and not at 100 percent, Guardado was pulled out of El Tri’s quarterfinal match. Whether he goes from the opening whistle against Haiti is uncertain.
On the other side of the midfield, Jonathan dos Santos is in a similar situation. The LA Galaxy midfielder missed Mexico’s first match of the tournament with a muscle complaint of his own and also came out of the quarterfinal before the extra time period.
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“Jonathan ended up a little heavy in the back of his leg. He told me it wasn’t anything more than a heavy load. He was calm,” Martino said after the match. “Andres, I think it’s something that he even came in with in the second game, also in the back. He even was in doubt for today’s match. We decided yesterday in the final training session that he was going to play and not Rodriguez. He made the effort to be able to be in the game.
“But I see it as a big positive that one of the two or three most emblematic players goes out, a guy with just 10 games in the national team – if he even has 10 – and does it like he did. This makes me really calm, it makes me happy. It makes the range of possibilities in choosing players much more broad.”
Dos Santos should be available for Tuesday’s semifinal, which is good news for Mexico. “It was just a cramp,” he said after the game. “They took me out as a change just as a precaution.”
While Carlos Rodriguez has given Martino plenty of depth in the middle of the field, it’s unclear how Mexico would line up were Guardado and Dos Santos both not fit to go. Rodriguez would fill one of the interior places next to holding midfielder Edson Alvarez, but the other spot may have to be filled by either Luis Montes – more accustomed to playing in a creative role – or Roberto Alvarado, who has been playing this tournament as a winger.
Martino may not have to go down that road. El Tri did a gym session Sunday and also did regeneration work in the pool. Monday afternoon, they’ll train – inside, with temperatures already above 105 at 11 a.m. in Phoenix and set to hit 110 around 3 p.m.
Haiti also is going through the same process, without as much depth in the squad as its opponent. Marc Collat, the Grenadiers’ manager, made just three changes from his side’s win over Costa Rica to close out the group phase for the 3-2 semifinal victory over Canada. After a furious rally in the second half, his team too will be pushed by the quick turnaround, even if it didn’t have to play extra time and penalties and also wrapped up its quarterfinal hours before Mexico finished its game.
Each manager has to decide who is best ready to play and who will cope best with this quirk of tournament soccer. The conditions may be tough, but each team is dealing with nearly identical situations. Neither manager will make excuses if they go home.
From there, the winner will have an extra day of rest compared to the other finalist. That benefit down the road doesn’t make the tight turnaround any easier for the players who will be on the field Tuesday and the managers responsible for deciding how their teams will line up.