The disaster continues for Mexico's women's national team.
Days after starting the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship with a shocking 1-0 loss to Jamaica -- a result that was called a "nightmare" by one Mexican sports paper -- El Tri Femenil then staggered to an even more calamitous 3-0 defeat by regional upstart side Haiti on Thursday night.
The outcome, which currently has Mexico at the bottom of Group A in the competition that they're hosting in the city of Monterrey, has officially pushed them out of the running for the knockout round and even further off-course from a possible qualification for the 2023 Women's World Cup. Once seen as one of the favorites to earn a direct spot into next year's event through the CONCACAF W Championship, Mexico will now need to close out the group stage on Monday with a win over the United States, the current World Cup title-holders, just to remain in the conversation for an unlikely playoff invitation for Australia/New Zealand 2023.
How did this happen to Mexico?
A little over a week ago, the tournament hosts looked like dark horses as they charged into July on a brilliant run of form. Ahead of the CONCACAF W Championship, manager Monica Vergara and her squad appeared confident with a 10-game undefeated streak and a whopping 52 goals scored through that run. Supported by a young but flourishing women's top flight through Liga MX Femenil, and a new generation of thrilling talent, it seemed as though Mexico were ready to step out of the shadows and become a women's national team powerhouse in the North American region.
"Everyone is going to see a Mexico that they've never seen before," boasted a stoic and assured Vergara before the match against Jamaica.
The statement proved to be an empty promise that was fitting for the near-empty venue a day later at the Estadio Universitario -- poor advertisement of the CONCACAF W Championship in Monterrey and non-weekend scheduling, likely at fault. Eight minutes into Monday's game, Jamaica's Khadija "Bunny" Shaw put the away side up 1-0 with a perfect header. Anxiety began to grow for an experimental and mixed XI for El Tri Femenil as they collected a long list of erratic crosses into the opposition's 18-yard box. Jamaica, dangerous with their limited possession and counters, eventually had no problems cementing their 1-0 result over Mexico.
"[The loss] doesn't define us. We're going to continue our process," Vergara said afterwards. "It's simply a stumble in our path and we're going to work on our upcoming games."
That stumble would then go on to become a full-on collapse by Thursday. Against Haiti, who are the lowest FIFA-ranked team in Group A, Mexico would learn little from their mistakes. Vergara, still unsure of her best XI, bizarrely settled on resting some of her top-performing players once again like Alicia Cervantes and Jacqueline Ovalle.
Similar to the match against Jamaica, El Tri Femenil would go down 1-0 early on in the first half when Haiti took the lead in the 14th minute. Following a foul in the 18-yard box from Stephany Mayor, forward Roselord Borgella scored off an ensuing penalty. In response, Vergara's players were slow in the build-up and had problems with finding chemistry in the attack. Defensively, they were susceptible to counters as Haiti moved up field with ease.
Then in the second half, things went from bad to worse to abysmal for Mexico. With just a reported total of only 6,000 watching from the 51,000 capacity of Monterrey's Estadio BBVA Bancomer, El Tri Femenil allowed an additional two goals (including another off a penalty), while also earning a red card for defender Greta Espinoza and an injury for fellow defender Rebeca Bernal. At time of writing, there are no details regarding the seriousness of the injury. The 24-year-old was taken to the hospital for examination after slamming into the woodwork during a set-piece.
Down 3-0, down to 10 players and even further down in morale, Mexico's players were shell-shocked and disorganized in the final stages of the game, knowing that their tournament dreams were slipping away once the final whistle was blown. Perhaps weighed down by the media hype and expectations that were quickly put upon them, or by the weather that literally exceeded 90°F, the players looked uncomfortable on the pitch against Haiti and Jamaica. Mix in early setbacks, continued tinkering with starting XIs and poor attendance for games, and you get a team that is sitting dead last in Group A, with no spot in the knockout round of the North American competition. While there remains a very small chance to earn qualification for the World Cup, a place in the 2024 Olympics, also earned through the CONCACAF W Championship, is now officially out of reach.
"It's a very difficult night for everyone," said a dejected El Tri Femenil captain Kenti Robles after the defeat by Haiti. "Nobody expected this."
"From my heart, I'm very sorry," Robles later added as a message to fans.
Vergara, whose stock in the Mexican soccer world has dropped dramatically and rapidly, admitted that the match against Haiti was a "heavy blow," but also made the eyebrow-raising decision in the post-game to bring up ambitions years from now in the 2027 World Cup cycle when the current qualification for 2023 has yet to end.
"We knew that we could have challenges, it's a process of planning for the 2023 World Cup, but also for the long-term for 2027, we have a young generation," noted Mexico's coach. "You have to learn, to continue working."
Herculez Gomez debates how the USWNT will fare in their upcoming games against Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico.
The 39-year-old has only been in charge since early 2021, and understandably has needed time to tinker and adapt, but in meaningful games that can lead to a Women's World Cup after missing out in 2019, it's likely disheartening for fans to hear the coach continue with her themes of process-building and learning when smaller nations are scoring goals and stealing points away from them.
And on Monday, even more goals might fall into the back of Mexico's net when they close out the group stage against the U.S. women's national team. Already qualified for a direct spot in the World Cup with a 3-0 win over Haiti and a 5-0 victory against Jamaica, the United States will be the easy favorites in what should have been the marquee match-up of the day. Instead, it will be Haiti vs. Jamaica, both fighting for runner-up in Group A for the other direct ticket for the World Cup.
As for Mexico, a place at third in the group, and thereby a spot in an intercontinental playoff for Australia/New Zealand 2023, will be their best-case scenario. That said, they'll not only need to somehow find a way to defeat the United States, but will also need Haiti to defeat Jamaica. Statistically speaking, they could also go through if they defeat the United States and if Jamaica defeat Haiti, but it's unlikely they'll be able to overcome the goal differential or tiebreakers needed to surpass Haiti.
Either way, a small chance of hope is there for Mexico, but based on how things have gone in the CONCACAF W Championship so far, the nightmare might only get worse once they step onto the field next week against the United States.