Mexico lost focus after Matt Miazga mocked Diego Lainez, needs 'Tuca' Ferretti's guidance
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The United States' 1-0 victory over Mexico will be remembered mainly for Matt Miazga mocking Diego Lainez's height in the second half.
It was an incident and a photo that will go down in the collective consciousness of the relatively young U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry. It gave a spark to a game that threatened to be stale. The giant U.S. defender making fun of the skillful, diminutive 18-year-old laid down a marker for the new generation in a Clasico that needed a jump start.
The moment was especially poignant because Club America's Lainez is not just a teenage hopeful, but Mexico's brightest young talent; a player who received an offer from Serie A side Roma a matter of weeks ago and whose dribbling dazzled against the U.S. And while U.S. fans applauded Miazga for his bravado, Mexico fans could rightly be impressed by Lainez's maturity in playing down the importance of it all.
"The [incident] with the two-meter center-back and the beloved little [Lainez] will be useful to him," said 64-year-old Mexico interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti in a news conference after the game. "He'll remember it the rest of his life and it'll help him."
Ferretti is right. It will be an incident that Lainez won't forget and, underneath the portrait of calm he showed as he gave interviews after the defeat, there'll be a steely resolve inside.
Lainez's time to prove that talent beats size when it comes to soccer will surely come further down the road in games against the United States.
But what that road will look like for Lainez and Mexico is the real issue at present. The Miazga story was the main headline, but there were deeper takeaways on the night from El Tri's perspective.
Mexico has now lost four consecutive games for the first time since 2001, and while that is no cause to panic -- given that only two or three of the 19 players available on Tuesday for El Tri would likely be in Mexico's "A" squad -- a 4-1 loss to Uruguay and a 1-0 defeat to the United States is not a great start for this group of youngsters.
As Ferretti suggested, these players need to be "polished" and it was concerning that after the Miazga incident, Mexico's players seemed to lose focus, with Angel Zaldivar seeing red two minutes later in the 67th minute and the team going on to concede a goal in the 71st.
Ferretti accepted Mexico lost control a little after the incident and said it was "normal" after the red card.
In reality, it was a lack of game intelligence that -- coupled with the loss to Uruguay last Friday -- really drove home the fact that the absent Europe-based players really are a long way ahead of this new generation, however much potential it has.
Ferretti has got the narrative just right. He's pleaded for patience from the press for this group of players and the reaction to two losses has been a long way from the hostility handed out to former coach Juan Carlos Osorio.
What we don't yet know yet is whether Ferretti will be given the keys to manage the generational change El Tri requires. We've heard the Brazilian come closer than ever to accepting his interest in the job, but it's no guarantee given that Tigres are unlikely to let him leave easily.
And the Mexican federation also needs to think long and hard about whether Ferretti is the right manager.
Certainly, the last week has been substantially different than under previous coach Osorio. There was a more closed feel to the national team and no real access for the press, but Ferretti has been jovial and engaged in news conferences, joking around and participating in training ahead of the U.S. game. He even laid down his authority when he sent Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez, Guillermo Ochoa and Raul Jimenez back to Europe instead of hanging around for the U.S. game.
On the pitch, Ferretti swapped from a 4-2-3-1 formation against Uruguay to a loose 5-3-2 against the United States, showing versatility, but missing out on the results. And the possession-based style we've seen for years at Tigres was evident, although it will take time to get up to full speed with that.
The overriding question resolves around Ferretti's future, with the youngsters showing enough to suggest that the raw material for a gradual generational change is there. The key now is finding someone to manage it.