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Streaking Mexico changes coaches, not results

Mexico Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is reserved and meticulous, and a tactician who is rarely caught unprepared.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

When Miguel Herrera coached the Mexican national team, he would tweet out his lineup the day before a game. The current coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, doesn’t even tell his own players until a couple of hours before kickoff.

The clownish Herrera was an emotional “players’ manager” who kept his hair uncombed, his heart on his sleeve and his strategy an unchanging open book. Orosio is reserved and meticulous, a tactician who is rarely caught unprepared.

One thing they share, however, is an unbeaten streak. And at 11 months and 19 games old, it’s the longest current streak in international soccer.

It started last July under Herrera, who was sacked later that month following a run-in with a TV reporter. It continued under interim coach Ricardo Ferretti, who engineered last’s fall’s Rose Bowl win over the U.S. And it will be on the line Sunday when Osorio and Mexico meet Uruguay, minus Luis Suarez, in its first game of the Copa America Centenario before a crowd of more than 60,000 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

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But while all of that is nice, defender Jorge Torres Nilo said, it’s also meaningless. Streaks are about the past, Nilo said, and he’s focused on the future.

“We don’t pay attention to streaks, because we’re not out to go on streaks. We’re out to go looking for a win match by match,” he told a news conference this weekend. "We know that we’ve got a very important team in front of us with very important players. But we’re confident in what we have as well.”

What Mexico has is arguably its best national team in a generation. Unquestionably it’s the hottest; not only has Mexico yet to lose under Osorio, it hasn’t even allowed a goal, shutting out its last seven opponents.

“This is a good generation of players,” said Jared Borgetti, an ESPN analyst who retired eight years ago as Mexico’s all-time leading scorer. “Mexican soccer is getting a lot better.”

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One major change is the fact Mexico has discovered the rest of the soccer world. The last World Cup team Borgetti played on featured just three players from top European clubs. Osorio’s roster has 10 players with European pedigrees, including seven who played in the last UEFA Champions League.

“The best thing that could happen for any country is to have most of your players playing in the best leagues in the world,” said forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who played in three of those leagues – the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga – in the last 13 months.

“Hopefully in the future we can [have] 100 Mexicans playing in Europe. That could help a lot and definitely you’re going to see results in the national team.”

For the time being, Hernandez is focused on a good result Sunday because a win over Uruguay, ranked ninth in the world, would set Mexico up for a long run in the Centenario, an expanded 100th-anniversary edition of the South America championships.

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Uruguayan Coach Oscar Tabarez said Saturday his team will be without  Suarez, its talisman striker who scored 59 goals in all competition for Barcelona this season before injuring a hamstring in the Copa del Rey final two weeks ago. Suarez worked out gingerly by himself Saturday and Tabarez, saying the rehab is progressing rapidly, hinted Suarez could play later in the tournament, provided Uruguay makes it out of group play.

Osorio wasn’t completely convinced.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Suarez played,” said Osorio, who promised to be prepared, perhaps with an unusual lineup featuring three center backs in Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes.

Just don’t expect Osorio to tell those players until a couple of hours before kickoff.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11


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