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Mexico did not enter the Copa America with high hopes. A year and a half after a group stage exit at the 2022 World Cup, two unspectacular Concacaf Nations League outings and two coaching changes later, many realized this was not the El Tri team that was once North America's gold standard. Yet, with their group stage exit from the Copa America on Sunday following a 0-0 draw with Ecuador, the national team managed to surprise by how low they have actually fallen.

Jaime Lozano's side needed a win against Ecuador to rise from third place to second and book a spot in the quarterfinals over the weekend. The team seemed to understand the task from kickoff at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., by having nearly 60% of the ball and outshooting the opposition 19-9. There was just one problem -- they never really boasted the quality to get them over the line.

Look no further than their offensive effort on Sunday. Mexico took 13 shots at goal before finally landing their first shot on target in the 65th minute. The shot quality improved from that point but they mustered just 0.86 expected goals, sending some of their best shots away from the target. The belief that Mexico would actually score with one of their many chances -- if there was any pre-match -- slowly trickled out of the match each time they failed to capitalize on a shot. As a result, the intensity that a high shot count usually provides was canceled out by an inefficiency that lingered over their performance, delivering a feeling of staleness that is slowly becoming Mexico's trademark.

Their offensive effort was perhaps Mexico's biggest shortcoming at the Copa America, where they scored just one goal in three games, far fewer than the 4.71 expected goals they generated throughout the competition. Their inability to score rendered their defensive stability -- they conceded just once during the group stage -- moot, but perhaps not much of a surprise considering the attackers they came to the tournament with. No player on this young El Tri team has more than 13 international goals, an indication that a team that is trying to start afresh still has not actually kickstarted the refresh they have been hoping for.

Mexico's issues up top are also reflected in the fanbase's new choice to be the face of the team, Santiago Gimenez. The 23-year-old has generated notable buzz in Europe after a 26-goal, eight-assist season for Feyenoord, positioning himself as a young player that many hope will turn good in the near future. His potential has not quite translated to the national team just yet, though -- he has just four goals in 30 appearances, none of those coming at the Copa America. His breakthrough moment for El Tri has yet to come and the pressure for it to come will not wane -- rare is it for the weight of expectations to decrease for Mexico, and there's no reason to expect the home crowd to take things easy with the national team's decline well and truly here, just two years before the home World Cup.

Years into the downward trend, it feels fairly easy to predict where Mexico might go from here. A trigger-happy federation might just fire the head coach yet again, feeling no particular attachment to Lozano since he was an interim who got the full-time gig because he won the Concacaf Gold Cup contested by the region's B and C teams. The team has not progressed in the year since he took over and it seems unlikely that many will miss him.

Lozano is not really the problem here, though. Mexico's hiring and firing spree just creates a cycle of uncertainty that may hinder the program's advancement by believing the fixes are one coach away. It would be unwise to argue that a talented coach could get the best out of this group, but the question facing Mexico for the next two years is this: How much higher is their ceiling? There is no question that El Tri underperformed, but dreams of a deep run in 2026 -- and for the foreseeable future -- might be more aspirational than they once were.

There's still time to reverse course and actually hit the ground running once the World Cup begins. Crashing out of the group stage at the Copa America, though, indicates that there's a lot of work to do, and a two-year timeline may not be enough to accomplish those tasks.