How will Mexico cope after scandal?
With the news that five members of Mexico's Gold Cup squad have tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, the immediate question that arises -- aside from the players' guilt or innocence -- is: How will this affect Mexico's chances of winning the tournament?
The answer is that even if El Tri are allowed to replace the five players -- there will be a meeting of CONCACAF's national team committee Tuesday to decide whether that is the case -- the removals do cut deeply into the team's depth. They could be fatal to the team's Gold Cup aspirations.
The five suspended players are goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, forward Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez, forward Sinha, defender Edgar Duenas and defender Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez, and the speculation on the part of the Mexican Football Federation is that the quintet ate some tainted meat. Of the five, only Ochoa and Rodriguez were regular starters, although Sinha was a regular before the death of his father just before the start of the tournament.
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Of these three, the biggest loss is Ochoa. While there have been accusations that the Club America netminder is highly overrated, his 45 caps easily make him the most experienced goalkeeper at the disposal of manager Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre. Ochoa's backups are Toluca's Alfredo Talavera and Monterrey's Jonathan Orozco; Talavera got the nod on Thursday night, giving him his second cap, while Orozco has made just one appearance for the Mexican team. Losing Ochoa also makes the decision to drop Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jesus Corona before the tournament -- he was excluded for head-butting an opposition assistant coach during Cruz Azul's playoff defeat to Monarcas Morelia -- all the more fateful.
Fortunately, whomever de la Torre picks to replace Ochoa will have the chance to get a few games under his belt prior to the knockout rounds. But you can bet that should Talavera or Orozco make a blunder that ends up knocking El Tri out of the tournament, fans ultimately will point to Chicken-Gate as the reason.
As for Rodriguez, he has a ready-made replacement in Rafa Marquez, who is healthy again after aggravating a groin injury while with his club, the New York Red Bulls. The original plan was for Marquez to be rested, but the central defensive pairing of Rodriguez and Hector Moreno looked so sharp that de la Torre opted to keep Marquez on the bench. Now he'll get his chance.
The positive in all this -- if it can be categorized as such -- is that the suspension of Sinha will allow de la Torre to do what fans have been calling for all along, namely insert Giovani dos Santos into the withdrawn forward spot behind Chicharito Hernandez on a permanent basis. That position was occupied by Sinha until his aforementioned and unfortunate family situation forced him to temporarily leave the team, yet the Toluca attacker had not looked sharp at all in the run-up to the tournament. In his stead, dos Santos has looked to be operating near his peak. Now de la Torre is spared the torment of telling his former protege at club level that he's being dropped to the bench due to poor performance.
As for Duenas and Bermudez, they didn't figure to see much playing time, but the loss of the latter player leaves Mexico short of replacements for dos Santos should he be suspended or injured during the tournament. That situation could be alleviated if El Tri are allowed to replace the five suspended players, but either way, it is a weakened Mexico side that will soldier on in the Gold Cup.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.