Mexico has succeeded in spite of 'Chepo' de la Torre

Otto Greule Jr

The United States' draw against Mexico on Tuesday night was not a fluke, but part of a pattern for El Tri. 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre's decisions haven't made sense from the beginning of his tenure.

Managing Mexico is one of the best gigs in world football. Sure, the media and fan pressure is worse than the average job, but it's also a job that's very hard to screw up.

You manage the team with the deepest pool of talent in your confederation, with players coming from the best domestic league on the continent. The most popular club in the nation, who has been to the final of the Copa Libertadores, has a policy of only playing Mexican players. European clubs have warmed to buying Mexican players, so a number of the players in the player pool currently ply their trade at the highest level of the game.

There was a rough transitional era in Mexican football in the build-up to the last World Cup, in which Mexico's current stars were on the downslope of their careers while their new generation of players hadn't quite matured yet. Javier Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela got good enough and fast enough to help the team to a knockout stage berth in the World Cup, but Sven-Goran Eriksson got a bit of a raw deal, with those guys not having quite found their form during his tenure. He's the only guy in recent memory who has had a legitimately hard job to do. If you take over the Mexico job tomorrow, you won't have the problems he had.

World Cup qualification is expected as a bare minimum accomplishment for Mexico, but given that CONCACAF is lacking in depth, but granted three automatic berths into the finals (plus a playoff spot), it's pretty simple for you to achieve that. Once there, fans will understand if you fail to get out of an extremely difficult group, or if you do get out of a less than impossible group, understand if you don't get past the first knockout stage. That is, as long as you don't lose to your top rival, the United States.

And don't be mistaken, the U.S. has grown into a formidable rival. Their domestic league has matured and they have more physically imposing players than you do. However, their player pool is not terribly deep, and they're lacking in technical players. They have proven in the past that they can defend and counter their way to results against the best, but they can also be passed off the park. World Cup quarterfinals are a massive accomplishment for them. Their most passionate fans are among the loudest and most raucous football supporters on earth, but there are only a few thousand of them. They have to play you in 20,000 seat venues, because if they played you in bigger venues, they probably wouldn't sell out. If they did sell out, it would be because your fans bought more than half the tickets.

When you play them in their country, you usually play in front of pro-Mexico crowds. If you play them in front of a pro-U.S. crowd, the venue is a small one. When you play them at home, it's in a 100,000 seat stadium, featuring no more than 500 of their supporters. It's one of the best environments in world football. Between the crowd and the elevation that the stadium sits at, it's the best home field advantage in the world, bar none. Mexico's record in competitive matches at Estadio Azteca reflects this.

This is an incomplete list of advantages that 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre enjoys as manager of the Mexican national team, but to this point, he has failed to make the most of them. His team won the Gold Cup and is still in an excellent position to qualify for the World Cup, but they've managed only draws in all three of their first qualifying matches in the Hex, with two of those draws coming at home. In both home draws, his team failed to score. In the road draw, his team gave away a 2-0 second half lead.

For these failings, Chepo is very much on the chopping block. He might still have a job for El Tri's World Cup qualifiers in June, but anything less than four points from a trip away to Panama and a home game against Costa Rica would be an absolute disaster, and would probably force FMF's hand. Those games come just five days before Mexico plays Italy in the Confederations Cup -- a competition that the Mexican fans and de la Torre's employers are taking very seriously. Immediately after that comes the Gold Cup, which will feature a different team than the one that goes to Brazil, but will still be a senior competition that he will be expected to win.

If the FMF fires de la Torre before his team's June gauntlet, it will be hard to blame them. Actually, it wouldn't be shocking if they had immediate buyer's remorse shortly after hiring him.

If the FMF fires de la Torre before his team's June gauntlet, it will be hard to blame them. Actually, it wouldn't be shocking if they had immediate buyer's remorse shortly after hiring him. He played Giovani dos Santos, who has been poor in every game he has played anywhere, but in the hole since he was 17 years old, on the right wing in his first game as manager. In his second game, he handed a start to Sinha, the then-34-year-old trequarista who was the lynchpin of his Toluca sides in Liga MX, a player who obviously had little to no chance of helping Mexico in World Cup qualifying.

Quickly, here's a listing of obviously or potentially international quality Mexican No. 10s under the age of 30 who have received Mexico or Mexico Under-23 caps since the turn of the decade: Giovani dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Elias Hernandez, 'Hobbit' Cristian Bermudez, Edgar Pacheco. None of those players is perfect -- dos Santos, in particular, had a rough game against the United States on Tuesday -- but they all have the potential to play for 90 minutes against a team like the United States, potentially create goals, and go to the World Cup next summer.

There's also the case of Carlos Salcido, the converted left back who, oddly, has become an automatic first choice central midfielder. For a converted fullback he's actually quite competent, but his athleticism, tackling ability and accurate long balls are far from what Mexico need or have required in the past from players in his position.

In the beginning of Chepo's tenure and for a decade before he took over, Gerardo Torrado was the man who ran the show in the center of the park for El Tri. He's much more of a technical tackler than a crunching tackler, has never been much of an athlete, is crisper with his short passes than his long balls, and is excellent at dictating the tempo that his team plays. He could not be any less like Salcido.

Torrado is 33 years old, meaning that it might be time for Mexico to move on to a younger player, but Chepo hasn't excluded anyone on the basis of age during his tenure. Torrado is also fit and in form again, and was a key player in Mexico's Gold Cup win back in 2011.

Mexico doesn't have a like-for-like replacement for Torrado, but they have a lot of good central midfield players who are closer to Torrado than Salcido. Like the No. 10 role, there are a lot of international quality or nearly international quality players under the age of 30 that Chepo could potentially call on: Jesus Molina, Edgar Andrade, Hector Herrera and Jorge Enriquez. There's also Fernando Arce, who, while 32 years old, was key to Tijuana's Liga MX win last season and is performing very well in Copa Libertadores.

De la Torre has also clung to the corpse of Rafael Marquez, inexplicably keeping him in the Mexico team ahead of guys like Hugo Ayala, the best defender in Liga MX, and Diego Reyes, the young phenom who's headed to FC Porto. When Marquez's lack of form and fitness was so obvious that even Chepo couldn't deny it, he made 'Maza' Francisco Rodriguez his first choice central defender alongside Hector Moreno.

'Maza' was once an effective center back in the Bundesliga, but those days have long passed. In fact, Stuttgart let him walk on a free transfer this January instead of making him see out the remainder of his contract. They probably could have squeezed a transfer fee out of his current club, Club América, but decided it wasn't worth the bother. He was so bad that they just wanted him to leave as fast as possible so they didn't have to pay his wages anymore. This is de la Torre's captain.

In the 0-0 draw against Jamaica to start World Cup qualifying, Maza was an absolute disaster. The only reason Mexico didn't lose was because of Jamaica's poor finishing. Maza was no match for Ryan Johnson, an average MLS striker. After that draw, he made the very captainly decision to flip off a television camera. He wasn't benched or stripped of the armband. Instead, he started as captain against Honduras on Friday and was responsible for both goals, getting out-jumped on the first and giving away a penalty for the equalizer.

Because that wasn't bad enough, Maza's yellow card against Honduras, which was his second in two games, got him suspended for the United States match. That forced Chepo's hand, and he inserted Reyes -- who plays alongside and overshadows Maza on a week-to-week basis at the club level, making it plain for anyone to see who the better player is -- into the starting lineup. He was one of less than a handful of Mexico players who played an excellent game for El Tri.

That just covers Chepo's inane player selections, and doesn't even begin to cover his truly nonsensical tactical decisions.

Jamaica's draw at the Azteca wasn't lucky at all, and was practically gifted to them by de la Torre. He completely abandoned his right flank, playing dos Santos on the right, but having him drift into the center. Behind him was Paul Aguilar, a poor defensive fullback who has nowhere near the quality to defend an entire flank with no help. When he bombed forward, the main cover for his position was Maza, his worst defender.

Not only did Jamaica hold on for a 0-0 draw, but they looked like the better side throughout the game, because Chepo made it easy for them to attack with their best player for the entirety of the match.

Not only did Jamaica hold on for a 0-0 draw, but they looked like the better side throughout the game, because Chepo made it easy for them to attack with their best player for the entirety of the match. Neither central midfielder was tasked with keeping an eye on that flank defensively when Aguilar was caught up the pitch and dos Santos went inside. Jamaica's left winger, Jobi McAnuff, is their not-so-secret best player. The Reggae Boyz had a simple outlet down that flank every time Mexico lost the ball, allowing them to either create a dangerous counter-attack or simply run oodles of time off the clock. Not only did Jamaica hold on for a 0-0 draw, but they looked like the better side throughout the game, because Chepo made it easy for them to attack with their best player for the entirety of the match.

Mexico's starting formation and tactics made sense to start Tuesday night's game against the United States, but his changes throughout the match were akin to throwing darts blindfolded and hoping you hit the bullseye. When his team couldn't find a breakthrough and his central players struggled to create much of anything, he took off his left back for Angel Reyna and overloaded the left flank with attackers, despite Omar Gonzalez cutting out nearly every cross that Mexico attempted during the match.

Eight minutes later, he took off a wide player (and his most effective attacker, to this point), Javier Aquino, replacing him with forward Omar Bravo. While Mexico came close to scoring in the dying minutes, it was more due to a truly desperate push than any kind of change made by their manager. They lacked direction before the Reyna sub and their goals were even more difficult to ascertain from his introduction until the end of the match.

To this point, Mexico has picked up good results in competitive matches. They walked through their first phase of World Cup qualifying after winning the Gold Cup back in 2011, but El Tri has succeeded in spite of their manager. It's easy to forget that Mexico needed extra time to beat a Honduras team much worse than the current edition of Los Catrachos in the Gold Cup semifinal, and that they went down 2-0 to the United States in the final of the Gold Cup. Mexico lost twice in 2012, to the United States and Colombia, and was very disappointing in a 1-1 draw against Denmark in their summer friendly with domestically-based players.

That bled into qualifying, where Mexico has now drawn three straight games and turned in very disappointing performances in each. The writing has been on the wall for a while. Chepo has looked out of his depth since taking over the job and succeeded until very recently because he has one of the easiest jobs in the world. The gap in high-end talent and depth between Mexico and their competitors should mask the flaws of any fairly competent manager, so it's telling that Mexico's deficiencies are glaringly obvious.

Mexico is too good of a side to continue with a manager who seems to be making it up as he goes along. They're good enough that they'll qualify for the World Cup even if they stick with him, but if the FMF have ambitions beyond simply getting to Brazil, it's time to pull the trigger.

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