The last time Mexico played a match that mattered, they lost 7-0 to Chile. It didn’t matter that Chile went on to win Copa America Centenario — El Tri were embarrassed unlike they had ever been embarrassed before and June 18, 2016 went down in Mexican soccer history as one of their darkest days.
Many guessed that Juan Carlos Osorio would be fired for the loss. That players would be pushed out. That the national team would be flipped upside down. But instead, none of that happened.
Mexico stood by Osorio. The federation acknowledged that they didn’t actually have a good 2014 World Cup — after all, how good can you be when your goalkeeper is your best player? — and that it was important they build a program. That is what Osorio was tasked with and it required patience. It required a commitment to a process. A process they believed in when they hired Osorio last fall and still believed in despite a seven-goal loss.
With the federation’s backing, Osorio continued building his team. The player pool expanded even further as he called in even more players, his rotational system was used again and he showed no hesitancy to change the way the team played to exploit opponents or suit the talent at his disposal. It was exactly what he was doing before that fateful night against Chile.
Part of Osorio’s expanded player pool was recalling Giovani dos Santos. That’s the same dos Santos who had not played for Mexico since Osorio took over, but was in terrific form for the LA Galaxy and remained among the most skillful and creative Mexican players. The result was a pair of great showings back in the Mexico shirt, not to mention a goal, that has him in contention to start against the United States on November 11 (7 pm ET on FS1).
For that match, Carlos Vela will also be in the team for the first time in over a year. With Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez back from injury, not to mention the previously absent Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Miguel Layun, Osorio has more options than ever before.
Of course, more options doesn’t necessarily mean success. Mexico played a putrid first half at El Salvador in September and their attack was non-existent four days later against Honduras. Their October friendlies resulted in a pair of wins and while they did play better, the 2-1 and 1-0 scorelines over New Zealand and Panama were reflective of the match, which isn’t exactly comforting to Mexico supporters.
The team’s response to that destruction at the hands of Chile was more of the same and four matches that did little to show the team is anywhere near their best. But they were matches with no stakes.
Their September matches may have been World Cup qualifiers, but Mexico had already booked a place in the Hex. They were, in effect, friendlies, just like the two contests El Tri played in October. And those four games make up Mexico’s entire schedule over the last five months.
When Mexico take the field against the U.S. in Columbus, OH, they will be doing so still trying to shake that loss to Chile. It was their last competitive match and one that would take an emphatic victory to put in the rearview mirror. Like finally conquering Crew Stadium and putting Dos a Cero to bed type of emphatic.
Nothing since that match against Chile has indicated that Mexico are ready to exorcise their boogyman or conquer the U.S. They’ve barely been capable of conquering New Zealand. But there have been positive signs, from dos Santos, to a more stable central midfield, to the red hot play of Chicharito. If you believe in the process, you can believe that El Tri will win. And Osorio loves the process. He preaches it at every turn and the Mexican federation didn’t just buy into the process when they hired him — they stuck by his process when the pressure was on them to cut him loose.
Now it’s time for Osorio and Mexico to show that they are nothing like the team that was embarrassed by Chile. That their process is working.
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