SAN DIEGO (AP) Elias Hernandez has never played in the World Cup since joining Mexico’s national soccer team in 2010. He’s doing everything he can to change that.
Hernandez scored and had two assists to help Mexico beat El Salvador 3-1 on Sunday night in a CONCACAF Gold Cup opener.
”He did great, important things for us,” assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez said of the 29-year-old forward.
Hedgardo Marin scored his first goal for the Mexican national team, and Orbelin Pineda scored as a second-half substitute. Jesus Gallardo contributed to two goals in front of the pro-Mexico crowd of 53,133.
”There were a lot of positives,” Pompilio Paez said. ”This team is going to get better by a lot.”
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, serving the first game of a six-game sideline suspension for berating an official, watched from a stadium suite. Pompilio Paez directed the team from the sideline.
Mexico will face Jamaica, a 2-0 winner over Curacao, in a Group C match Thursday in Denver.
All three of Mexico’s goals came off lengthy right-to-left passes.
”We played well on the outside,” said Pompilio Paez, who lauded Hernandez and Gallardo for playing different positions than usual.
Gallardo, working mostly at right wing, set up the first goal by earning a free kick after beating his defender.
Hernandez had success across the entire front line.
”That was the idea, to have him play on the outside and come inside,” the assistant coach said.
Mexico opened the scoring eight minutes into the game on defender Marin’s header off Hernandez’s free kick. Taller than any El Salvador starter, the 6-foot Marin found the upper-left corner.
El Salvador countered two minutes later, scoring on a deft one-touch pass and one-touch shot, Rodolfo Zelaya to Nelson Bonilla. Bonilla’s far-post grounder got past Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
”We had a couple of problems (in the first half),” Pompilio Paez said. ”It may have been the way El Salvador played.”
Corona later got away with an errant rollout in the middle of the field, El Salvador’s shot going over the crossbar.
Mexico created another clean look at the 29th minute.
This time, the 22-year-old Gallardo looped a pass to a waiting Hernandez, whose full-volley drive made it 2-1.
Hernandez created the third goal with a crossing pass. His initial target at the near post was unable to connect. But the roller got past El Salvador’s goalkeeper, and Pineda put it away for a 3-1 lead in the 55th minute.
Pineda celebrated with two somersaults.
Osorio was an active presence, moving around a third-level box and taking notes.
”The hardest part is that I can’t be on the bench, helping our team win,” Osorio had said Saturday. ”I think that’s probably the worst situation for every manager.”
Mexico was crisper in the second half, especially on defense, a sign that the coaching staff made effective adjustments.
”We will take positives from it,” Pompilio Paez said.
The assistant coach said it was ”very important” to open the tournament with a victory.
Mexico held out some of its top players, and still controlled most of the play after the early hiccups.
”That gives our group a lot of confidence,” the assistant coach said.
Pompilio Paez praised the work of several less experienced, younger players.
”There is a new generation of players in Mexico, and they have to get used to playing in these types of games,” he said. ”Our object is that some of them will make it to the World Cup.”