Saturday's night Gold Cup quarterfinal between Mexico and Costa Rica was supposed to be a straightforward match for El Tri.
With new manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino cruising into the knockout round with seven consecutive wins, Mexico was expected to waltz past Costa Rica. Instead, Los Ticos stifled El Tri through an organized and defensive approach, forcing a draw and two halves of extra time which finished at a level 1-1 scoreline.
In an ensuing round of penalties, it was Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who saved Mexico with a stop in the first round of sudden death, thereby giving El Tri a place in the semifinal round. Shaken up, Mexico will head to Phoenix to face Haiti for a spot in the Gold Cup final.
There is no doubt about it: Ochoa is the best goalkeeper available to El Tri. Game after game, the 33-year-old continues to be an immovable wall that has been turning heads across the globe since the 2014 World Cup.
In the midfield, the tireless work of Edson Alvarez also helped paper over some cracks that were beginning to form in the recent quarterfinal. The defensive midfielder was once again superb, and it's no surprise that European teams are keeping an eye on him.
Up top, Rodolfo Pizarro was a much-needed source of energy in the final third. The winger is a game-changer, but that said, a disconnect in general became apparent for most members of the attack.
It could possibly be due to Costa Rica parking the bus or an over-confidence heading into the game, but Mexico mistimed far too many passes in the final third. Players such as Jonathan dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Uriel Antuna and Luis Rodriguez appeared to be on a different page while they made their runs forward and looked for passes.
Failing to break down Costa Rica's defense is another significant worry. This won't be the last time Martino will have to deal with a CONCACAF squad that will be more than happy to place the entire squad behind the ball.
Manager rating (out of 10)
5 -- This was Martino's least impressive performance in his early tenure with Mexico. The manager held on to his substitutes for far too long and lost his cool after arguing with match officials. Due to a yellow card being given to him for a second consecutive game, the Argentine is set to miss the semifinal against Haiti.
As for his tactics, Martino should have altered his approach that became predictable for Costa Rica throughout the full 90 minutes and extra time. Optimistic Mexico fans will hope that this will lead to some personal constructive criticism for Martino.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Guillermo Ochoa, 10 -- Ochoa stepped up with a few saves in regulation time, a highlight-worthy stop in the second half of extra time and another save that clinched the win through penalties. Time and time again, Ochoa has emerged as a hero for Mexico.
DF Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez, 5 -- It was difficult to feel confident about the right-back who occasionally lost the ball and struggled to halt Costa Rica's counters. Chaka does a decent job in the attack with his passes but leaves much to be desired in the backline.
DF Carlos Salcedo, 6 -- Salcedo didn't have great chemistry with Nestor Araujo in the heart of defense and looked frustrated after struggling with pacey runs from the opposition. His true saving grace was scoring in the sudden death round of penalties.
DF Nestor Araujo, 5 -- There was something off about the 27-year-old, who tends to be a more reliable presence in defense. Araujo didn't form a good partnership with Salcedo and had a tough time stopping counters.
DF Jesus Gallardo, 7 -- A decent game for Gallardo. The high-pressing right-back was regularly involved in the attack and provided some dangerous crosses as well. Gallardo also scored in the round of penalties.
MF Jonathan dos Santos, 5 -- After earning an early yellow, Dos Santos became absent in the match. The LA Galaxy player eventually started to become more proactive in the late stages of the second half, but it was too little too late before he was substituted out in the 90th minute.
MF Edson Alvarez, 8 -- Alvarez was one of the hardest-working players on the field. The defensive midfielder was constantly involved in duels that helped gain possession back for Mexico.
MF Andres Guardado, 6 -- Not much to say about Guardado. The captain, who had injury doubts beforehand, had an average evening that featured a wide-ranging list of conservative and inaccurate passes in the final third.
FW Uriel Antuna, 4 -- Will the hype die down? Mexico's breakout player of the tournament looked lost in the company of Costa Rican defenders. The 21-year-old had no real impact in the game.
FW Raul Jimenez, 7 -- Credit where credit is due, and Jimenez should be given plenty of it for Mexico's only goal before penalties. No matter if he finds the back, El Tri benefits from having a lively No. 9 who loves to drop back and connect with the attack.
FW Rodolfo Pizarro, 8 -- Pizarro will likely go down as an unsung hero. Although he had some inaccurate opportunities on net, the 25-year-old was at times the only player who attempted to take chances with aggressive runs and bold passes in the second half. Pizarro also finished with an assist for Jimenez's goal.
MF Carlos Rodriguez, N/A -- Substituted in for Guardado in the 84th minute.
FW Roberto Alvarado, N/A -- Substituted in for Antuna in the 85th minute.
MF Luis Montes, N/A -- Substituted in for Dos Santos in the 90th minute.
DF Hector Moreno, N/A -- Substituted in for Araujo in the 106th minute.