DENVER – Thursday night’s Group C clash between Mexico and Jamaica was not only a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup Final, it marked a much-sought after return to the international stage for Mexico and Houston Dynamo forward Erick “Cubo” Torres.
It was Torres’ first start for the Mexican national team since April 2015, when El Tri suffered a 2-0 loss to the United States in exhibition play and came just 10 days after Torres was named as a late addition to Mexico’s Gold Cup roster.
“He was very excited to come to the national team,” said Mexico assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez, acting in the place of suspended head coach Juan Carlos Osorio. “Obviously with [Alan] Pulido injured, we were able to bring in substitutions and he was one of them.”
Despite Paez’s role as acting head coach for El Tri on game day, he acknowledged that all personnel decisions, including the choice to start Torres, came directly from Osorio.
“Osorio is the coach of this team and he choses the players in the starting XI,” said Paez. “It’s his decision, but after that it’s up to the coaching staff to handle things on game day.”
Torres has tallied 12 goals in 2017 for the Dynamo, including his most recent visit to Colorado, where he scored Houston’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Rapids on July 1. The goal kept him in the race for the MLS Golden Boot, and the coaching staff for El Tri has taken notice.
“He’s in a rhythm from his games with the Dynamo,” said Paez. “He only practiced two times last week so we wanted to give him the best chance to train with the players.
“He was given a chance to train, to learn the structure of the team, and to come in today and perform with the other players.”
Against Jamaica, he did just that. Torres made his mark on the game early, earning a free kick in the 10th minute and taking Mexico’s first shot of the game a minute later. By halftime, Torres had accounted for three of El Tri’s five first half shots, although none of his efforts were on frame.
Yet despite outshooting and out-possessing the Reggae Boyz, Mexico was unable to unlock a Jamaica defense that often had 10 players behind the ball, including Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, who also shined with two saves in a clean sheet effort.
“It’s not easy for him to play as a No. 9 with so many defenders around him,” Páez explained. “It was very hard for us to find him, they closed the space. We just weren’t able to break down the numbers they had in the box.”
While Mexico itself earned a point from the result and maintained its lead atop Group C, “difficult” and “frustrating” were the words used most often by the Mexican coach and players following Thursday night’s 0-0 score line.
“We’re definitely frustrated,” said Paez. “We wanted to get three points for [the fans] and qualify for the quarterfinals.”
Nonetheless, it likely won’t be the last view of “Cubo” Torres in this year’s Gold Cup, or in future Mexico fixtures.
“He did a great job and he’ll have some more opportunities moving forward.”