PHILADELPHIA — He didn’t exactly say it, but he may as well have. Mexico coach Leo Cuellar was faced with a fascinating choice Friday night at PPL Park. He could play his absolute best lineup and try to revisit 2010 when the Mexicans qualified off a stunning upset of the United States in Cancun. Or he could take the cautious approach, knowing another win-and-in match awaited on Sunday if his team lost.
The lineup Cuellar chose for the semifinal of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship did not include Veronica Perez, Stephany Mayor or Monica Ocampo. Charlyn Corral, the team’s best offensive player during group play, did not start nor play off the bench.
“We have some very skillful players that were not in the game today,” Cuellar said following a 3-0 loss that was much more lopsided than that between the 18s. “We hope that with the time they’ve been resting that they’ll be ready and they create a difference in our lineup and create an impact for the opponent.”
That opponent is Trinidad and Tobago. Randy Waldrum’s scrappy side managed to play Costa Rica to a 1-1 draw despite being outplayed for much of two hours, eventually falling on penalty kicks. Sunday’s match will officially be a 3rd place match in this tournament, but the winner will be headed to Canada for the World Cup.
“That’s part of the plan,” Cuellar continued regarding his lineup choice against the United States. “We had to play our cards in one way or another.
“Hopefully it works.”
Against the United States, not much of anything worked. Beforehand Cuellar spoke of having to play a perfect game. Regardless of who was on the pitch, nothing close to a perfect game ever materialized.
“We tried not to give too much room in our backs,” he said. “We tried to have a little bit of pressing from the midfield up. They moved the ball around very well. The position of their center backs they are always ready to change the point of attack. Also I think we dropped back too much at the beginning of the game. We wanted to have the game a little bit higher in order that we have the opportunity to steal the ball and have a logical distance to create our chances. We started too deep and it was difficult.”
Cuellar spent much of the rest of his postgame media session praising the United States, who are into the final without so much as conceding a goal.
“They’re awesome. They’re outstanding,” he said after congratulating the U.S. on officially securing a World Cup berth. “It’s very attractive soccer. They have so many weapons, so many tools.”
Later, when asked about preparing for the abundance of U.S. striker talent, Mexico’s coach paid the United States one of the ultimate compliments.
“They can put two teams and finish top four, top five in the World Cup. That’s a fact. I think in the end it’s how well they are able to control the concept of play. Obviously when you play (a top) team the fitness level is equal. So it is going to come down to the tactical plan. They have so many tools.”
Next up for Mexico is a team with far fewer tools but just as much fight. If Mexico defeats Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday, then for the moment all will be forgotten about getting roughed up by the United States, and dropping their opening group match to Costa Rica, which fouled up their semifinal draw. It will mean a return to the World Cup, Mexico’s third overall and second straight.
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