The year was 1993. Mexico had become the first team to qualify for the World Cup by rolling through CONCACAF without much trouble, save for a comeback win vs. Canada. It was also the first foray in the Copa America, which could not have come at a better time. Outside of a couple of Gold Cups and said qualification, Mexico had not played any meaningful matches since being ousted by West Germany on penalties in the 86 World Cup quarterfinals.
It was assumed Mexico had a good side, but no one was really sure. They had missed out on the Italia 90 because of an insanely stupid self-inflicted wound, so the Copa America would be a great barometer to see where they really stood.
They made it to the final, losing to Argentina 2-1.
Back then, it made sense for Mexico to play in the Copa America. CONCACAF was more minnow than shark, and Mexico had few, if any players cashing game checks outside of the country. They could field a full squad to play a very competitive tournament. And let’s face it. Having Mexico in the tournament helps with ratings and the bottom line. The topper is that Mexico has played well. They advanced to the semis a handful of times and played in two finals, losing both on the odd goal.
CONCACAF put the kibosh on Mexico’s fielding a full senior squad for the 2011 edition. Mexico decided to play with U22 team, whose expectations took a turn for the better after a win at Ecuador. But the fun ended there. A large number of starters were sent home after a prostitution scandal; U20s were sent in their stead, and Mexico bowed out after the first round for the first time since competing back in 1993.
This time around, Mexico will be fielding a senior squad, but not THE senior squad. And not a U23 side, because they will be busy playing the PanAm games in Toronto. So the question is, why bother playing the Copa America at all? Mexico’s best players are now cashing game checks in Europe, and their clubs will find it very difficult to risk their investments in an extra-official tournament. Frankly, Liga MX sides should feel the same way. So a reserve side it is. Sound familiar?
It is just like Mexican clubs' participation in the Copa Libertadores. Why would you want to participate in the tournament if you are going to send nothing but reserve squads? A few years ago Monterrey, at the peak of their great run, sent the reserves to play most of the tournament. To be fair, though, Atlas and Tigres are taking their participation very seriously this season, which is sadly the exception, not the norm.
Copa America is a great tournament, and fun to watch when you have a vested interest. But a lot of things have changed since 1993 – CONCACAF has improved exponentially, expats make up the bulk of the senior squad, and even the local teams would prefer not to have their players double dip in the summer.
So, the question again... is it worth it?