Column: Mexico’s coach Juan Carlos Osorio has gathered plenty of wins — and criticism
By his own reckoning, Juan Carlos Osorio should be out of a job by now.
“At this level, you as a manager are three defeats away from crisis,” the coach of Mexico’s national team said this spring. “If I was in another country, maybe they would allow me three defeats. In Mexico, no. Probably one and that’s it.”
Osorio doubled that number in the last 11 days alone, losing to Germany and Portugal in the knockout stage of the Confederations Cup in Russia. He then suffered a self-inflicted wound when FIFA suspended him for six games for verbally abusing an official in the loss to Portugal.
The penalty will keep him on the sidelines throughout the CONCACAF Gold Cup, in which Mexico opened Sunday with a 3-1 win over El Salvador before a crowd of 53,133 at Qualcomm Stadium, a contest Osorio watched from a luxury suite.
In the opener of Sunday’s Group C doubleheader, Jamaica beat stubborn Curacao 2-0 on second-half goals from Romario Williams and Darren Mattocks.
The reaction to Osorio’s recent missteps was both swift and predictable at home, with the Mexican media and former players demanding the coach be sacked.
Two years ago the Mexican federation gave in to public opinion, firing Miguel Herrera as coach following an alleged physical altercation with a journalist in the Philadelphia airport the day after he led El Tri on an unbeaten run through the previous Gold Cup.
The federation’s reaction this time has been more levelheaded.
“Juan Carlos Osorio is — and will continue to be — the coach of our Mexican soccer team,” said Decio de María, the federation’s president.
A professorial 56-year-old with a cerebral, unorthodox approach, Osorio has earned the federation’s support. Even with the two losses in Russia, he is 23-4-5 in 20 months as coach — with three of those losses coming to the current World Cup, European and South American champions.
No previous Mexican manager has coached that many games and won that often.
Yet his penchant for endless lineup rotations has proved maddening to critics, who overlook the fact that Osorio has Mexico on pace to win the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament for the first time in two decades. And his detailed, no-nonsense approach has brought stability and professionalism to a program more typically awash in drama and betrayal than a prime-time telenovela.
Working against him, though, is a birth certificate that shows he was born in Colombia. Foreigners are frowned upon at the helm of the Mexican national team.
“If he was Mexican,” shrugged Santiago Banos, the federation’s director of national teams, “he would have an easier way.”
Mexico has averaged a coaching change every 11 months since the 2006 World Cup, but all those changes in the technical area have brought little change on the field. Although Mexico is just one of three countries to have advanced out of group play in the last six World Cups — alongside Germany and Brazil — it hasn’t won a game in the knockout round since 1986.
Osorio offers Mexico its best chance at ending that streak. Not only has he built the deepest and most talented national team ever, but the core of that team — Hector Moreno, Javier Hernandez, Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera, Memo Ochoa — will likely be playing its last major international tournament together next summer in Russia.
And many have said they want to play that tournament under Osorio. Asked Saturday if he believes he’ll last that long, the coach said he tries not to think about that.
“Impossible to explain,” he said of the calls for his job, the loudest of which have come from people angling to replace him.
“This is a democracy,” he continued. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just try to concentrate on my responsibilities and try to win the next game.”
So rather than stepping aside, Osorio is stepping forward. Although he is not permitted to be in the technical area during Gold Cup games, Osorio is still running the practices, picking the lineups and dictating the strategy for loyal lieutenant Luis Pompilio Paez, who has replaced him on the sidelines.
That makes this team and this tournament Osorio’s. And the B team roster he’s chosen for it reflects the vision of a builder, not someone merely trying to save his job. Seventeen players entered Sunday with fewer than 10 international caps; 11 are 25 or younger.
Two of them — defender Hedgardo Marin, 24, and forward Orbelin Pineda, 21 — scored Sunday. Many of the others will help form the core of Mexico’s 2022 World Cup team.
“This is an important tournament,” Osorio said of the Gold Cup.
In Mexico, they should hope it’s not his last.