Los Angeles Soccer: Christian Bermudez
Mexico's roster is back at full strength, sort of, for its CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal Wednesday in Houston against Honduras after its federation replaced the five players suspended after testing positive for a banned substance.
El Tri coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre called in Guadalajara goalkeeper Luis Michel, Mexico's starter at the 2010 World Cup, Pachuca defender Paul Aguilar, who also played in South Africa, and rising Guadalajara defender Hector Reynoso and forward Marco Fabian de la Mora and Monterrey defender Hiram Meir.
Aguilar, Mier and Reynoso are expected to be available Wednesday. Michel and de la Mora departed Monday with Mexico's “under-22” team for Colombia to begin final preparations for next month's Copa America, South America's nations championship. They would join the Gold Cup team only in an emergency.
Starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Francisco Javier Rodriguez, plus reserve defender Edgar Dueñas and midfielders Antonio “Zinha” Naelson and Christian “Hobbit” Bermudez were suspended following Mexico's tournament opener after the Federacion Mexicana de Futbol announced they had tested positive for clenbuterol, a drug designed to treat breathing disorders in horses that also can add muscle, during El Tri's pre-tournament camp outside Mexico City.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said in a news conference in Mexico that the quintet, which tested positive for banned muscle-builder clenbuterol in May 21 tests, won't be allowed to rejoin El Tri for the remainder of the CONCACAF Gold Cup after second tests, conducted last week at UCLA's drug-testing laboratory, came up negative.
"There’s a certain level of drug in the bloodstream, and FIFA’s decision to agree with [the World Anti-Doping Agency] is that that these players can’t play at this time," Valcke said, according to a report on Major League Soccer's website. "FIFA will authorize, if [the Mexican federation] so wishes, that the five players be replaced because it's very difficult to see if this was a question of tainted food or if it was intentional."
Mexico, which meets Guatemala in a Gold Cup quarterfinal Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., has had just 17 players available since starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Francisco Javier Rodriguez and reserve defender Edgar Dueñas and midfielders Antonio "Zinha" Naelson and Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez were suspended by Federacion Mexicana de Futbol after the first group game. Defender Ricardo Osorio left the team because of a urinary-tract infection and has not returned.
El Tri officials initially suggested tainted beef or chicken could have caused the positive tests during Mexico's pre-tournament training camp outside Mexico City.
Valcke said there would be further investigation of the tests, and director of national teams Hector Gonzalez Iñarritu told Medio Tiempo, a sports website, that no changes to the roster could be made until Federacion Mexicana de Futbol received written confirmation of Valcke's remarks.
Five players, including starting goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa and defender Francisco Javier Rodriguez, were dropped from Mexico's squad after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, but Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos scored two goals apiece to lead its second successive five-goal romp.
Costa Rica needed a last-second goal from Randall Brenes to draw, 1-1, with El Salvador in the first game of a doubleheader that drew 46,000-plus to Bank of America Stadium.
DRUG CHEATS?: A Mexican federation official said it was likely Ochoa, Rodriguez and three other players -- defender Edgar Dueñas and midfielders Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez and Antonio "Zinha" Naelson -- ingested tainted chicken or beef before testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol.
All five were dropped from the team, pending an investigation, with Alfredo Talavera stepping into the nets for Ochoa and captain Rafa Marquez returning to the starting XI in place of Rodriguez.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup begins Sunday, with a Costa Rica-Cuba/Mexico-El Salvador doubleheader in front of a sellout crowd at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and plenty is at stake.
There's the trophy, to be sure, plus the berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup -- that's the real prize, as the U.S., a 2009 Confederations finalist, can report -- and spirited competition to prepare for the start of qualifying for the next World Cup.
More vital could be the tournament's role in restoring credibility to CONCACAF, which is on its third president in a week after FIFA's corruption scandal exploded in the Caribbean.
HEAVY INTRIGUE: It's been a wild week in the soccer world, and especially the confederation's New York offices, since a FIFA investigation into charges levied by CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer that CONCACAF President Jack Warner, of Trinidad & Tobago, and fellow FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hamman offered cash to Caribbean officials in exchange for votes in Wednesday's FIFA presidential election.
Warner and bin Hamman were suspended last weekend by FIFA's Ethics Committee -- bin Hamman was forced to withdraw from the election, and Sepp Blatter, unopposed, was reelected -- and Barbadan Lisle Austin took over as acting CONCACAF president. His first order was to dismiss Blazer, an American, leading to a legal skirmish, with the confederation telling Austin he didn't have the power to fire Blazer and Austin accusing Blazer of trespassing and stealing company resources by continuing at his job.
It hid a head Thursday, with Austin suspended -- and claiming his suspension wasn't legal -- Honduran Alfredo Hawit taking charge, and Blazer still on the job. Expect more fireworks shortly.