Mexico’s coach has nothing to worry about against U.S.
Ricardo Ferretti might have been the most relaxed man at the Rose Bowl on Friday, an uncommon experience for a Mexican national team coach on the eve of a game against the United States.
But then few people involved in Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup playoff have less at stake than Ferretti, an interim coach who will step down next week regardless of what happens against the U.S. in a sold-out Rose Bowl.
“If we win, they’re going to want me to stay. If I lose, they’re going to want me to leave,” Ferretti said with a laugh.
"[But] I’m going back to Tigres.”
That would be the Mexican league team from which Ferretti was summoned in August after Miguel Herrera, the exuberant and popular former national team coach, was fired after allegedly punching a journalist.
Ferretti, 61, got the pressure-packed job largely because no one else wanted it. And he accepted it only on the condition he would quickly be replaced — which hasn’t been a problem for Mexican coaches lately because the national team has gone through five coaches in the last three years. (By way of comparison, the U.S. has had five coaches in the last 24 years.)
“I’ve already said it 100 times,” he said last month, when asked if he wanted to stay. “Which letter don’t you understand, the N or the O?”
The hiring of Juan Carlos Osorio as Herrera’s replacement this week ended whatever speculation remained — and it will soon remove Ferretti from the hot seat as well.
So while others may feel the heat Saturday in sweltering Pasadena, Ferretti is looking at the game as a goodbye party attended by more than 93,000 guests.
“I’m leaving the team very pleased. And with great satisfaction,” Ferretti, speaking in Spanish, said Friday. “Regardless of the result, I will leave very thankful with everything that happened.”
A victory over the U.S. would be a thoughtful parting gift for the Mexican soccer federation, because Saturday’s winner will represent CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, an important eight-team dress rehearsal for the 2018 World Cup.
It would also end a six-match winless streak against the U.S. dating to the last time the teams met in the Rose Bowl, in the 2011 Gold Cup final won by Mexico, 4-2.
Ferretti’s calm Friday also belied concerns over a team that is dealing with a rash of injuries. Captain Rafa Marquez and midfielder Andres Guardado, whose six goals led Mexico to its seventh Gold Cup title this summer, will both limp into the match, Marquez with leg problems and Guardado with an ankle injury.
At least they’re expected to play. Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos (muscle strain) and defensive midfielder Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez (thigh, calf) of Leon were replaced on the Mexican roster because of injuries.
The U.S. is dealing with its own issues after dropping midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who is battling a fever and illness.
But while Ferretti is approaching the game with nothing to lose, a loss is something U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann can ill afford.
Although he is unbeaten as both a player and coach against Mexico, going 5-0-5, Klinsmann’s U.S. team has won only one of its last four games and is coming off its worst Gold Cup performance in 15 years. Another poor effort Saturday against the U.S. chief rival would embolden the coach’s critics.
“Pressure is always something that is [there] when you think about what people say,” Klinsmann said. “For me, it’s exciting. You want to play the big games, you want to play the big tournaments, you want to play the biggest teams out there as often as you can in order to measure yourself.
“For a lot of people, a lot of pressure or the higher the expectations, it’s difficult to describe that. I have no problem with that.”
Nothing that happens on the field Saturday is likely to have a dramatic impact of either coach’s future though: Klinsmann’s contract with U.S. Soccer runs through the next World Cup and Ferretti will step down after Tuesday’s exhibition with Panama, returning to Tigres and leaving Osorio — who will be at the Rose Bowl reviewing his troops — with the headache and pressure of preparing Mexico for next month’s World Cup qualifiers.
Marquez, sitting next to his coach at Friday’s news conference, declined to discuss the transition.
“Out of respect, I don’t really want to answer that question,” he said.
Ferretti just stared ahead, smiled and thanked the Mexican federation for the opportunity. And for keeping it short.
“Naturally,” he said “this is something I will never forget.”
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