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Chepo’s still a cloudy picture as Mexico returns from Brazil

Jun 23, 2013, 9:01 PM EDT

Mexico's head coach De La Torre reacts during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against the U.S in Mexico City Reuters

Broadly, your choice to replace a coach falls into one of two categories:

1.) You can get somebody better. Be it for soccer reasons, their personality, or some other compromising circumstance, you decide the person you have isn’t as good as the person you could get. Despite strong results, this is ultimately what U.S. Soccer chose to do with Bob Bradley.

2.) Yes, in another situation, your replacement might be a worse option, but something about the way your current guy fits with the squad means its time for a change. See San Jose’s recent divorce from Frank Yallop.

The first category’s the easy one. You know something is lacking, you’re confident the coach is part of the problem, and with another man in mind, you make the call. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can move forward in the knowledge you’re making a proactive, confident choice.

After their team’s performance at the Confederations Cup, Mexico still find themselves closer to situation number two, unsure whether they’ve reached a point where change for change’s sake is worth it. In Brazil, the team showed some improvement over their World Cup qualifying form, but the squad is still underperforming. Whereas a clicking Mexico would have competed with Italy for second in their group, the team ended the tournament fighting for third against Japan.

That high standard — expected to be notable better than a strong Asian champion — defines the perceived limbo of Chepo de la Torre, a man whose abilities have been proven at both club and international level. When Javier Aguirre left the team after the last World Cup, de la Torre’s record in Mexico made him a clear frontrunner for the job. That status was validated a year later when El Tri showed unprecedented dominance in winning the 2011 Gold Cup. The man can clearly not only coach, he can coach this team.

That’s what makes the FMF’s evaluation so difficult. As de la Torre said in Brazil, it doesn’t matter if you finish first, second, or third in in qualifying. Everybody makes it to the World Cup on even footing, yet results are the only way to judge how a team is evolving ahead of that goal. And if Mexico’s evolution is judged by their one win in six CONCACAF qualifiers or their step back from their Gold Cup form, they’re evolving the wrong way.

Is Chepo doing anything wrong? Perhaps. He seems out of ideas, and the changes he’s making to the team seem more like grasping at straws than a reflection of coherent plan. He’s reluctant to move away from playing Javier Hernández as part of a tandem, has been unable to get Gio dos Santos back to his Gold Cup effectiveness, and doesn’t have a solution for teams sitting back and waiting to hit them on the counter. The end result is a lack of goals, a series of draws, and doubts about Mexico’s direction.

If those doubts go away with a new coach, whether you think he’s better than de la Torre or not, you make the move. And maybe, after three years on the job, de la Torre’s no longer able to motivate his players and needs to move on. Maybe Mexico needs a man who will finally bring back Carlos Vela? Or maybe, with these particularly players, Chepo really is out of ideas.

But if you’re really switching coach just to shake things up, you have to be very, very careful. Because  with Chepo, if it doesn’t work, you may have just let the best man for the job walk out the door.

  1. talgrath - Jun 24, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    I must admit, even as a US fan, I’ve found Mexico’s qualifying quality to be baffling. This team should, at the very least, be winning games at home in Azteca, possibly the toughest place to play away in the world. Mexico should be jostling with the US for a top spot in CONCACAF, instead they find themselves struggling to remain in the qualifying picture. But, if you’re the Mexican soccer federation, who would you turn to that would be better? There are lots of options, but on paper all of those options are a step down.

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