Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa Mexico during a 5-0 victory over El Salvador… (Rick Yeatts / Getty Images )
Mexico's hopes for a second consecutive Gold Cup soccer title took a major hit Thursday — and it had nothing to do with what happened on the field in Charlotte, N.C., where El Tri dismantled Cuba, 5-0, on two goals each from Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez and another by Aldo De Nigris, becoming the first team to qualify for the tournament quarterfinals.
Hours before the match, Mexico suspended five players, including starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, after they tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol.
CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer said the confederation's national teams committee will meet Friday to consider the situation, including the possibility that Mexico will be allowed to replace the suspended players on its Gold Cup roster.
In addition to Ochoa, defenders Edgar Duenas and Francisco Rodriguez and midfielders Christian Bermudez and Antonio Naelson "Sinha" were also suspended, bans than could last as long as two years. Of the five, only Ochoa and Rodriguez played in Mexico's tournament-opening 5-0 win over El Salvador on Sunday.
Decio De Maria, general secretary of the Mexican federation (FEMEXFUT), told a news conference in Cancun the players failed a pre-tournament drug test last month after ingesting contaminated food. De Maria said the test results were not released to the Mexican federation until Wednesday.
"Everything points to it being an accident, very unfortunate," De Maria said. The five positive results were included in a package of 14 test analyses. Officials said Mexican players in training camp all ate the same food, leaving it unclear why just five tested positive.
Clenbuterol, known as "clen," can be helpful in treating asthma but is commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders to promote fat loss. It is the same drug that produced Tour de France champion Alberto Contador's positive test last year.
The U.S. anti-doping agency said clenbuterol has also been used to promote growth in livestock, including cattle, lamb, poultry and swine, although such use is illegal in the U.S. and Europe and the risk of a positive drug test from ingesting meat contaminated by clenbuterol is small.
But in April, Germany's anti-doping agency NADA warned athletes about eating products from Mexico because it could lead to involuntary positive doping results.
Mexico took issue with the Germans' finding then but now FEMEXFUT is using it as part of its defense against the doping charges.
"We know there is a health alert throughout the country because of food contaminated with clenbuterol and that will be taken into account in the investigation," De Maria said.
In Thursday's other Group A match, Randall Brenes scored with just seconds left in injury time to give Costa Rica a 1-1 tie with El Salvador, virtually guaranteeing it a spot in the tournament quarterfinals.
Rodolfo Zelaya scored seconds before the end of regulation time in the first half for winless El Salvador.
Costa Rica advances to the next round with a win or tie against Mexico in the final match of group play Sunday.