ATLANTA – In this delicate time for Mexico, the prospect of taking an opponent for granted - even Trinidad & Tobago, a side it has dispatched relatively easily for the better part of a decade - represents something of a foolish approach to the situation.
It is not the sort of trap El Tri plans to fall into ahead of their CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal meeting between the countries in Atlanta ( live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET ).
"We know it's not going to be an easy game," Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said during a press conference on Friday. "Trinidad has grown with the quality of its players. The way they've been playing - their skillset, their strength and their height - makes it a challenge. We are confident in what we offer and what we have improved upon in this tournament. We know it will be a good test for us to show our improvements."
This match must accelerate the modest growth fostered over the past three matches and show how much El Tri has learned from its recent struggles. Trinidad may present some challenges for Mexico physically, but its occasionally indifferent approach to defensive shape should allow ample room to operate in possession.
It is exactly the sort of weakness Mexico can and should exploit. Trinidad coach Stephen Hart highlighted the midfield area - and the contributions of Marco Fabián so far in the tournament - as one of El Tri's strengths heading into this affair.
Mexico must produce thrust against a Trinidad side that has identified its strengths and presumably tried to account for them heading into this encounter. De la Torre expressed confidence that his side can cobble together the sort of performance required to lift its standards and secure a place in the semifinals.
De la Torre must ponder whether he can name Jorge Enriquez in his starting XI to address some of those concerns. Enríquez missed the 3-1 victory over Martinique on Sunday after he sustained a right hamstring injury in the triumph over Canada three days earlier. He trained with his teammates on Thursday in a bid to place himself in contention for a berth in central midfield, but de la Torre suggested he did not want to insert Enríquez in place of either Alejandro Castro or Carlos Peña at the risk of endangering his fitness for the remainder of the tournament.
"We're not going to risk him and that improvement we've seen," de la Torre said. "We want him to continue to get better and not take a step back. We're going to take it easy until we're absolutely sure he's good and then we'll put him in."
Hart possesses no such luxury in his team selection as he attempts to claim Trinidad & Tobago's first victory over Mexico since a 2-1 victory in Port of Spain in the final match of the Hexagonal eight years ago. A win in this match will ultimately hold less significance (the triumph kept Trinidad's World Cup hopes alive) in the annals of history, but it holds ample importance in the context of this tournament and the overall scope of the program.
Trinidad appointed Hart on the eve of this tournament to rebuild its tattered program. The former Canada boss managed to navigate his side to second place in Group B despite minimal preparation prior to the tournament. A final-day result against Honduras on Monday booked this arduous fixture and provided Trinidad & Tobago with a chance to confront El Tri once more.
"It is normal for us to have inconsistency, but we have progressed in every game, even the game against Haiti," Hart said. "I didn't think we played badly. I just think we didn't score goals. Hopefully, those three games have served us well to take on the challenge of Mexico."
De la Torre portrayed similar sentiments as he pondered the potential problems ahead for his side. Even with the increasing confidence within the Mexican camp, this quarterfinal tie - complete with Kenwyne Jones leading the line for an opponent capable of disrupting its rhythm - still presents an awkward task. It is a hurdle El Tri must overcome to continue its improvement and prolong its title defense through the end of the weekend.