Mexico head to Columbus, OH with three points, pride, bragging rights and progress towards the 2018 World Cup on the line, but there’s even more at stake: Juan Carlos Osorio’s job is on the line.
Osorio took over the reigns of Mexico’s national side just over a year ago. The 55-year-old Colombian replaced the wildly popular Miguel "Piojo" Herrera after his predecessor’s release following a physical altercation with a journalist and while it’d have been difficult for anyone to replace him, it was even tougher for Osorio. He wasn’t Mexican, for starters, and he didn’t have a sterling resume, but Osorio racked up wins early to keep his critics relatively quiet.
A month into his tenure, Osorio won his first World Cup qualifier, leading El Tri to victory over El Salvador. In 12 matches, they won 10, drew one, and lost just one. Mexico kept seven clean sheets in a row, and set a Mexico record for longest time unbeaten. Throughout this run however, Osorio drew the ire of fans with his tactical decisions, frequent rotation, and penchant for playing his guys outside their typical positions.
Still, he was getting results. Until the Copa America quarterfinal.
Mexico were demolished 7-0 by eventual winners Chile, for the first (and only to this day) defeat in Osorio’s tenure. It was a national embarrassment, and widely expected that Osorio’s head would be on the chopping block.
"Dismantling everything would be an error, which is why we’ve decide to continue with the project," said FMF general secretary Guillermo Cantu. "If we trust in the methodology of a person, it is because those of us on the inside have seen it. The results at this Copa America were a failure, but the project is Russia 2018. In order to strengthen, we have to trust in the team, with its leader Juan Carlos Osorio."
Their patience seems to be warranted. Mexico haven’t reached a World Cup quarterfinal since 1986, and the kind of results Osorio was able to get have been unprecedented in recent history. While his methods may be counter to fans’ desires, his record speaks for itself. Osorio’s done good work in his time with El Tri so far, and that can’t be denied.
However, that patience lies on a knife’s edge. Mexico have one of the deepest and most talented crops of players they’ve had at their disposal in years, and if Osorio can’t bounce back from the Chile loss with a solid result against the USMNT, all those wins may end up not meaning a thing for his job security.
Former boss Miguel Herrera is gunning for his job back too. Now in charge of Club Tijuana, he has his team on top of Liga MX, and hasn’t been shy in his criticism of Osorio.
He can qualify us [to the World Cup], but I don't think it will be any different because in a World Cup the opponents are much stronger.I don't see any arguments [to believe otherwise] in the national team's play, even though the human talent is there.We will go to the World Cup, but we won't see anything different. I say it because it's what I see.
The pressure’s on Osorio. Mexico vs. the USMNT is already a huge deal, and now he’s got the added pressure of the Chile result hanging over his head, plus Herrera in the background just waiting for his chance to slide back in. Osorio called in his strongest available team for the Hexagonal clash, and he’ll be hoping his players do him justice when it really matters.
Otherwise, he might not get another chance to show his worth.
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