FOX Soccer Exclusive
El Tri pays price for Chepo's fate
De la Torre somehow lurched from disaster to disaster this year without prompting his own demise. The direction of the overall project took precedence over the instant results as the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) attempted to find stability where chaos usually reigned.
The misplaced faith ultimately yielded setback after setback until crisis arrived and the FMF could wait no longer. De la Torre finally departed early Saturday morning in the wake of a stunning 2-1 home defeat to Honduras on Friday night. The necessary action reeked of a remedial move taken far, far too late.
“All of us are responsible for this situation, not just José Manuel de la Torre,” FMF president Justino Compeán said in his native Spanish as he appointed de la Torre assistant Luis Fernando Tena for the critical match against the United States on Tuesday night.
"Los responsables de esta situación somos todos, no nada más José Manuel de la Torre": Justino Compeán— FEMEXFUT (@FEMEXFUTOFICIAL) September 7, 2013
The collective failures leave El Tri in a precarious situation heading into the trip to Columbus. Tena freely admitted he cannot make widespread changes to the team in this compressed time frame. The former Olympic winning coach must work with the players at his disposal to somehow procure the response de la Torre never could.
Relying on a modest variation from the unsuccessful status quo hardly breeds confidence for a first result at Crew Stadium. Compeán discussed the importance of garnering all three points, but a draw would certainly suffice. Even that modest objective could prove difficult to fulfill for a side currently incapable of performing for 90 minutes or summoning a display reflective of the talent within the ranks.
Tena's arrival -- and the prospect of a more permanent appointment like former Monterrey boss Victor Manuel Vucetich prior to the unexpectedly critical home qualifier against Panama on Oct. 11 -- at least provides a jolt to a squad low on confidence and morale. The pressure to perform remains wholly in tact, but de la Torre's exit liberates the players a bit and supplies some hope of a revival sooner rather than later.
The change also offers encouragement about the potential inclusion of Guillermo Ochoa and Carlos Vela prior to the decisive pair of qualifiers in October. De la Torre cast Vela aside when the two could not find common ground and watched Ochoa humiliatingly pull out of consideration prior to this round of qualifiers.
Tena did not comment on the prospect of including either player in October, but the regime change creates an opening for the FMF, the coach (whether Tena or a new boss) and the players involved to sort out their differences for the good of their country. It is an opportunity everyone must embrace in order to give El Tri its best shot to sidestep a potentially tricky playoff with OFC representatives New Zealand in November.
More than a few of the people stuck in this mire now will wonder whether stronger action before this stage might have avoided this predicament entirely. De la Torre deserved some latitude given the success experienced in the early stages of his reign (the defeat to Honduras marked his first setback in World Cup qualifying, after all), but his tenure slid irredeemably off the rails in June.
In its futile bid to avoid or postpone de la Torre's inevitable fate given a dearth of readily available replacements, the FMF exposed El Tri to the chaos now engulfing the qualification campaign. The rot extended long enough to dent the prospects of a top-three finish and place a berth in next summer's World Cup in unexpected peril.
De la Torre's belated departure will not alter the ramifications of the decision to retain him. The lost points and the missed opportunities will not return. The campaign will not suddenly transform into a sweeping success without him.
It is now a matter of picking up the pieces and sticking together amid the adversity and the scrutiny. Mexico possesses all of the tools to extricate itself from its current mess, but the answers will not come from the FMF or any coach in charge. The responsibility now falls upon this talented squad to galvanize in the wake of the Honduran rebuke and halt the spiral started under de la Torre's watch before it is too late.