Getty Images

Mexico will arrive at this summer's Copa America facing a unique conundrum: How does a team manage high stakes when the expectations are lower than they have been in recent years?

Once the gold standard in North America, El Tri's star has fallen after a batch of inconsistent results and managerial chaos. The downward trend can be traced as far back as the 2022 World Cup, when their unimpressive pre-tournament results were a precursor to their group stage exit, marking the first time they failed to progress to the knockouts since 1990. Mexico are also on their third manager in the last two years -- Gerardo Martinez left after the World Cup, while his successor Diego Cocca lasted just seven games before he was fired. Jaime Lozano then took over and steadied the ship by winning last summer's Concacaf Gold Cup, but Mexico's malaise returned soon after.

The Copa America, in theory, offers Mexico a chance at a reset in their biggest tournament since the 2022 disappointment and ahead of the 2026 World Cup that will partially take place on home soil. Putting their recent struggles behind them might be easier said than done for El Tri, something the Mexico faithful seem to recognize -- even if their high demands have not wavered.

Ahead of a tournament that could set the tone for Mexico's road to the 2026 World Cup, here's a look at their chances to impress.

A favorable group

Mexico earned the luck of the draw by being placed into one of the Copa America's mildest groups alongside Jamaica, Venezuela and Ecuador. El Tri are the highest-ranked team in Group C, per the imperfect FIFA rankings, and are the oddsmakers' favorites in each of their matches. Mexico also have a favorable record against lower-ranked opposition in the Western Hemisphere, recently notching a 3-0 win over Panama and a 1-0 win over Bolivia. A favorable draw, though, is a double-edged sword -- as arguably the best team in the group, Mexico will actually need to act like it in order to impress.

There are several areas to address on the pitch to make sure Mexico are in peak form by their first game against Jamaica on Saturday, chief among them the attack. Their offense has been in stop-start form in recent months, going goalless in three of their last eight games, and El Tri also come to the Copa America without a proven goalscorer. Uriel Antuna is the leader for goals on the Copa roster with 13, while none of the listed forwards -- including Feyenoord's Santiago Gimenez -- boast more than six international goals.

Lozano will have the ability to tinker, including in goal as he explores the player pool without 38-year-old Guillermo Ochoa in the mix this time around, but he has limited time to do so. The group stage will be the opportunity to find a functioning version of a young Mexico team -- or pay the price for the shortcomings as soon as the knockout stages arrive.

Don't miss CBS Sports Golazo Network's Morning Footy, now in podcast form! Our crew brings you all the news, views, highlights and laughs you need to follow the Beautiful Game in every corner of the globe, every Monday-Friday all year long.

Make or break knockouts

As the favorites to win Group B, a quarterfinal matchup against the runners-up in Group A -- most likely Canada or Peru -- awaits. The odds might also swing in Mexico's favor here, but a top-quality performance will likely be demanded from El Tri as the business end of the tournament begins. It may not come, though -- our Chuck Booth predicts that Mexico will crash out in the group stage.

Should they make a run to the semifinals, though, a meeting with Lionel Messi's Argentina is nearly guaranteed. Mexico will be the underdogs against the reigning World Cup winners, but their inability to perform against high-ranking opposition suggests trouble may be ahead. El Tri have kept just three clean sheets in their last eight, conceding multiple goals in losses to the U.S. in the Concacaf Nations League final, Brazil and Uruguay. They simply have not risen to the occasion in these top-tier matchups, easily looking like the inferior team each time.

Regardless of how deep their run at the Copa America is, though, the knockout rounds will likely define Mexico's tournament based on the performances rather than the actual results -- especially if they face high-profile opposition. That will be the true measuring stick for Mexico's progress ahead of the 2026 World Cup, especially after months of failing to give their fans something to be optimistic about. Should they come out of this summer's tournament with another run of unimpressive showings, it will only ramp up pressure on Lozano and company to improve with less than two years to go until the World Cup on home soil. Doing so, in such a short time frame, might be an insurmountable hurdle.