Initially seen as one of the favorites to win one of four direct tickets to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Mexico has immediately put itself in an unexpectedly difficult situation after starting the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship with a 1-0 loss to Jamaica on Monday.
The tournament, in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, was meant to showcase the progress made by a national team program that has not only lived in the shadow of the United States and Canada, but also failed to qualify for the 2019 Cup. of the female world.
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Along with a young but burgeoning women’s top flight through Liga MX Femenil, and a new generation of talent guided by national team manager Monica Vergara, who coached Mexico in their race for second place in the World Cup Women’s Under-17 of 2018, The Women’s Tri they were ready to go out and become a powerhouse in the CONCACAF region.
Or, as goalkeeper Itzel González said in an interview with ESPN earlier this year: “Not just one sense [to be able to reach the next level]but a responsibility.”
With a 10-match unbeaten streak going into Monday’s game, which included nine wins and 52 goals scored, Mexico had high hopes in their opening match against Jamaica.
That until eight minutes into the game at the University Stadium.
Leaping literally and metaphorically higher than Mexico was Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, who stunned the home team with a perfect header to put Jamaica ahead from the start. The hosts pushed forward but looked almost dazed as they continued to collide with a sea of yellow jerseys who did well to soak up the pressure, remove midfield options and pummel Mexico on the counterattacks.
At the end of the first half, Jamaica would earn a penalty kick in the 40th minute. Fortunately for Mexico, Havana Solaun shot the ball over the net to keep the score at halftime.
The desperation began to take effect during the second half. Countless crosses, 25 of 34 deflected, were catapulted like Hail Marys into Jamaica’s 18-yard box. As much as Mexico tried, it was their opponents with fewer possessions who looked more dangerous when the ball was at their feet.
Led by Lorne Donaldson, a former assistant coach in Major League Soccer who gave a gig for the national team last month, Jamaica were efficient when seizing opportunities to counter. In fact, they were unlucky enough to score just once after Solaun missed the penalty and Shaw hit the woodwork in the second. However, once the final whistle blew, it was Jamaica who proudly celebrated the three points as Mexico walked slowly off the pitch.
“I am responsible for this result. Any criticism you have, I will take it and appreciate it because it helps me grow. I take full responsibility,” Vergara said after the match.
The lesson will be important for the coach who has so far made very few missteps since taking over in January 2021. Vergara has done a fantastic job bringing in new faces and trying different options in his squads, but that too seemed to go too far by using an XI that was not ideal against Jamaica.
Above, he opted for the promising but also inexperienced Diana Ordoñez instead of one of his two best forwards, Alicia Cervantes and Katty Martínez. Defensively, there were questions about Casandra Montero’s surprising backline partnership with Rebeca Bernal instead of Bernal with Cristina Ferral. The absence of Diana García in midfield was also a scratch on the head.
It was almost as if Vergara underestimated Jamaica. The same could be said for the conspicuous lack of Mexico supporters who were likely hoping for an easy win and had other games, including an upcoming matchup against the United States, and future knockout round matches circled on their schedules.
Now, depending on how things go, Mexico may not even qualify for the knockout round, which would also not grant them a direct spot for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
In a tournament that will also see the top two teams from each group qualifying for the World Cup (third in the group will enter a 10-team inter-confederation playoff in 2023), The Women’s Tri now they are at a huge disadvantage with a loss. With the USWNT beating Haiti earlier in the day, it is Jamaica who are sitting in second place in Group A.
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It’s still too early to do different permutations for match results and points, but it could be because Mexico possibly needs at least one point or maybe even a win against the USWNT to qualify directly for the World Cup. That and/or Haiti, the lowest FIFA-ranked team in the group, at least hold Jamaica to a draw on the final day.
However, as mentioned, no matter how dire things seem, fans and media shouldn’t hit the panic button just yet, and for what it’s worth, Vergara and his players haven’t.
“[The loss] does not define us. We are going to continue our process,” added Vergara. “It’s just a bump in the road and we’re going to work on our next games.”
Defender Kenti Robles was more candid about whether it’s still a crisis for her team.
“Whoever throws in the towel, get off the boat,” Robles said after the loss. “We have two games left and we are going to fight until the last minute.”
Looking ahead, any room for errors that Mexico had available has all but vanished. Had they won against Jamaica, all the team would have needed was another three points against Haiti on Thursday, regardless of the result against the USWNT next Monday.
Now, they can’t afford to make many mistakes, if any, in the group stage. If they do it one more time, they will likely return to the shadows knowing that they missed out on an invaluable opportunity to reach the next level.