Two weeks ago, Mexican national team Coach Miguel Herrera was in a Mexico City museum unveiling a wax likeness of himself. Before that he was at the Super Bowl in Phoenix. In between, he's been at tennis tournaments, on talk shows — everywhere, it seems, but with his team.
That vacation ended Saturday with a 1-0 win over Ecuador in Mexico's first game of 2015, kicking off a busy four months that will not only see Herrera's team play in two major tournaments on two continents but could also go a long way toward determining the coach's long-term future.
Many of the 88,409 who descended on the Coliseum were still stuck in traffic when Javier Hernandez scored the game's only goal in the 14th minute, banking a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area off the far post into the net behind Ecuadoran keeper Alexander Dominguez. It was Hernandez's first goal for club — he plays in Spain for Real Madrid — or country since November.
And Jesus Corona, whom Herrera started in goal over World Cup hero Memo Ochoa, proved that decision prophetic, diving to the right to stop Miller Bolanos' penalty shot in the 73rd minute to make that score stand up.
It was another charmed result for Herrera, who has become the most visible and most popular member of Mexico's most important sports franchise since rescuing the team during qualifying for the last World Cup.
That's little more than a distant memory among Mexico's famously impatient soccer hierarchy, though, so Herrera probably needs to continue winning to keep the long leash he's been given from becoming a noose.
In June, Mexico faces its first tough test at the Copa America in Chile. A month later, it will play in the
Four years ago, it failed to reach the Gold Cup final for the first time since 2005. And Mexico hasn't gotten past the fourth game of a World Cup since 1986, leaving its long-suffering fans frustrated.
"For Mexico's team, wins are important. Our supporters always push for a victory," Herrera said at a news conference before Saturday's game. "But we're also focused on playing well and looking at what the players demonstrate."
Much of Herrera's popularity comes from his outsized passion and personality. Despite his fame, he still comes across as an average guy, which he was before the Mexican soccer federation plucked him from the domestic league ranks.
But what's most endearing about Herrera is the fact that he hasn't retreated behind the walls of the federation's training complex in Mexico City. His sanguine personality is a stark contrast to the dourness of Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and the strict discipline of Javier Aguirre, two of his predecessors.
"My personality continues being the same. I haven't changed anything," said Herrera, a players' coach who has made the game fun despite the pressure.
And the team has responded to that approach, losing just four times in 21 games under Herrera. But it needs to keep winning if it wants to keep Herrera.