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Mexico lurches to another low in dramatic Copa América tale

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — There’s nothing like the telenovela highs, and the latest lows, of the Mexico national team at the Copa América.

Heading into the tournament, there were widespread questions about the script written by manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano, someone appropriately and occasionally referred to as “El Actor” due to his family’s involvement in the entertainment industry. Seeking to revamp his project ahead of the 2026 World Cup, Lozano shocked many in the Mexican soccer world when he revealed that familiar but aging stars like Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (no relation to Jaime), Guillermo Ochoa and Raúl Jiménez were no longer needed.

Aiming for more of a much-needed reboot, Mexico’s coach brought younger faces into the mix — which worked, at first. Last Saturday in their tournament opener vs. Jamaica, optimism surged after a narrow, but well-earned 1-0 victory. Perfectly symbolized by a game-winner from Gerardo Arteaga — a back-up player that had been promoted to starter in Lozano’s rebuild — success through opportunities for a fresh cast appeared to be a viable and exciting path.

But as is the norm with telenovelas, unexpected twists and turns followed.

During the Jamaica game, Mexico’s captain and arguably lead character Edson Álvarez suffered a hamstring injury that forced an early substitution. Then, late Tuesday in the evening before their midweek clash vs. Venezuela, it was confirmed that Alvarez would officially be unavailable for the rest of the Copa.

In line with the overall emotions that have come into play with Mexico’s melodrama, the national team ditched the standard protocol of a press release and instead released a sentimental video of Alvarez himself on Tuesday that confirmed his absence.

“Unfortunately, my participation in the Copa América has come to a close,” Mexico’s captain said on the night before their Venezuela clash.

One can’t blame Alvarez and the national team for recording the video, in fact there was a sense of solidarity in the social media post that also shared their juntos y unidos (together and united) motto that has been used internally by the squad. That said, it speaks volumes of the massive significance of the player when deciding to release the video — the same wasn’t done for goalkeeper Luis Malagon‘s injury — and it’s difficult to maintain that on-the-field solidarity when there’s a noticeable hole in the heart of the XI.

Without the captain, there was an apprehension about Mexico’s likelihood of success. Despite of the pre-game festivities that were building on a scenic sunny day with a Hollywood backdrop in the distance, things felt tense once the starting whistle blew.

The stats, at the very least, point to Mexico doing some things right in the game that would prove to be a difficult episode.

Mexico earned more dangerous opportunities (xG of 2.52, in comparison to Venezuela’s 1.19), held more possession (61% to 39%), and narrowly collected more recoveries (50 to 45). On paper, Lozano did what he could to give Mexico their chances, but his team’s limitations, as well as his own, emerged.

Desperately needing a new star to take top billing in his act, it was difficult to really pinpoint one player who truly stepped up for Mexico against Venezuela. Midfielder Luis Chávez should be given credit, as should central defenders like Johan Vásquez and new captain César Montes that acted as quarterbacks with their long passes in the NFL venue, but more was still expected of these players and others who were more like extras in the performance on hand.

To make matters worse, Montes was substituted at half-time due to injury, marking the second match in a row that a Mexico captain was taken out due to that reason.

“I don’t know yet,” said Lozano about the Almeria player’s health post-game. “At half-time they told us that it would be tough for him to start in the second half … today we don’t know if we’ll have him in the next game.”

As for Lozano, one couldn’t help but notice that he was out-coached in the second half after Venezuela’s Fernando Batista made the right adjustments and tactical changes that helped lead to the game-winning penalty from Salomón Rondón in the 57th minute.

“At half-time he adjusted a little, and it worked,” Lozano said about Batista. “You have to give him credit for the adjustments he made later [in the game].”

Lozano, looking at his bench, might have realized that he hampered his odds by not including the likes of seasoned veterans such as Chucky or Jimenez, among others.

The South Americans grew with confidence, while El Tri’s ponderous players failed to capitalize on countless moments in the final third. Even when given a penalty in the 87th minute, providing Mexico with yet another prospect to salvage a point, midfielder Orbelín Pineda was unable to shift the scoreline that was cemented at 1-0 in the opposition’s favor by the final whistle.

Far from a standing ovation for the show on display, boos and cups of beer came raining down from the SoFi Stadium stands, unhappy with the tragic drama of Mexico’s second act in the Copa group stage.

For Lozano’s men, the result marked the first time that Mexico had lost to Venezuela in an official competition. The defeat also meant that El Tri had now lost four consecutive times to Conmebol opponents in non-friendly matches. Mexico could get the job done against a fellow Concacaf rival like Jamaica last week, but against Conmebol? That’s a clearly different story, and perhaps a dark omen ahead of their final group stage game vs. Ecuador on Sunday.

In order to qualify for the knockout round, Lozano and his men will need to defeat the Ecuadorians to guarantee a place within the final eight. However, to the credit of the coach that also lost a group stage last summer before going on to win the Gold Cup, he’s not giving up on his project.

“We have 90 minutes [left] and no one is getting off this ship and we’re going to make it,” Lozano said. “We’re going to make it, of that I’m sure.”

The script isn’t finished quite yet for Lozano.

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