After the end of Mexico's latest three-game friendly run in the United States, El Tri will be heading home with a 2-1 win over Nigeria, a 3-0 loss against Uruguay and a 0-0 draw with Ecuador. Through 270+ minutes of play, manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino will have learned plenty about his squad as they continue preparations for the 2022 World Cup.
In an effort to highlight what worked, what didn't and what stood out for El Tri, here's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from these games.
The Good: Guillermo Ochoa and Fernando Beltran
Death, taxes and Guillermo Ochoa thriving in net for Mexico. Although the Club America goalkeeper will be turning 37 this July, his reflexes continue to be at an elite level for the national team and depending on whom you ask, they might even be getting better.
During Sunday's 0-0 draw with Ecuador, Ochoa was impeccable in keeping their South American opponents scoreless at Chicago's Soldier Field. It might not have been the busiest night in net, but it was once again a sign of his guaranteed status as a starter after previously earning five clean sheets in El Tri's last five matches of World Cup qualifying this year.
In the midfield, Fernando Beltran, 24, is also worth highlighting. Of all the players involved in the latest friendlies, Beltran has improved the most. As a starter in both the 2-1 win against Nigeria and the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, and as a substitute in the 3-0 loss to Uruguay, the Chivas player was a crucial facilitator of the ball and excellent with his movement going forward.
After Sunday's draw, Martino praised the midfielder when interviewed by TUDN. "He has very good qualities, he's brave," Mexico's coach said. "Not even I thought that Fernando was going to play so many minutes, so many games and two as a starter."
Heading into the three-game friendly series, Beltran was a backup to a backup option at best for Mexico. Now? A starting XI spot in Qatar might be within reach.
The Bad: Nobody's scoring the goals ...
It's not just Raul Jimenez struggling to find the target. While many Mexico fans have pointed the finger at the Wolves' striker, who didn't score for El Tri in his two recent appearances, there seems to be a deeper problem for Martino's frontline. Granted, Jimenez did miss a few good chances against Uruguay and Ecuador, but the blame should also land on the shoulders of those who failed to meaningfully connect with the striker in the box.
Alongside him, Alexis Vega was far too quiet and winger Jesus "Tecatito" Corona suffered an injury that forced an early substitution in the draw with Ecuador. In his place, Uriel Antuna didn't offer much going forward. Captain and attacking midfielder Andres Guardado wasn't as influential as he should have been, and in support, the high-pressing fullbacks were far from threatening over the past few games.
In general and outside of the win over Nigeria, many of Mexico's players have truly struggled for most of this year when it comes to chance creation and decision-making once in the opposition's end of the pitch. In 10 games (all competitions) in 2022, El Tri have scored just eight times. That said Martino, who has now seen his team go without a goal in three of their last four results, didn't seem too anxious.
"I was worried when we lost to the United States and Canada [in World Cup qualifying] in the middle of November last year," said the manager after the draw with Ecuador. Everything that's happening now ... is to find the best set-up and find the variations that we may need in a World Cup."
The Ugly: The return of the anti-gay GK chant
This is an off-the-field issue, but one that has plagued the national team for quite some time. After seeming to have receded from Mexico's friendlies this year, the anti-gay chant made an unfortunate return during the late stages of the scoreless draw with Ecuador. Frustrated by questionable officiating and a lack of a penalty call in Mexico's favor, tens of thousands of fans in Soldier Field belted out the chant during the 80th minute, forcing the match to be suspended for around five minutes.
Sadly, this reemergence isn't exactly surprising. Mexican soccer has struggled with curtailing the anti-gay chant and frankly didn't make much of an effort to do so until FIFA began handing out fines and stadium bans in recent years. Even with renewed PR campaigns and efforts at the domestic and international level aimed at fans, instances of the chant impacted Mexico's 2022 World Cup qualifying run to the extent that three of their games were closed to the public. In Liga MX, it's still not uncommon to hear the chant at the men's club level.
Sunday's event is a reminder that Mexican soccer is far from done when it comes to dealing with the chant. Heading into the World Cup, those in charge must continue to find a way of making it a thing of the past as opposed to something that sadly defines the national team going into the tournament.
Mexico's turnaround will be a short one, with their 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League journey kicking off at home against Suriname on June 11 and away against Jamaica on June 14. For the upcoming matches, Martino has shed most of the veterans and usual go-to players from his squad. If you read between the lines in the 16 who were dropped and the 23 who will stay for the Nations League, it's quite obvious that many of the fringe, alternate and up-and-coming options left on the 23-man roster -- Marcelo Flores, Beltran and Julian Araujo, to name just three -- are ones who will be fighting for World Cup spots.
With several players looking to increase their profile ahead of the World Cup, Mexico will take the field once again this Saturday at Santos Laguna's Estadio Corona.