Mexico reaching crossroads after exit

BY Kyle McCarthy • July 24, 2013

Mexico ended its halting 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup run on Wednesday night, but the questions will linger all the way through to September.

Every moment at this stage in El Tri's existence relates to the critical World Cup qualifier at home to Honduras on Sept. 6. And this semifinal defeat – a second 2-1 loss against Panama this month – inevitably raises concerns about the potential impact on the bigger issues just a few weeks from now.

Most of these players will not feature in the group selected to claim the points at Estadio Azteca, but their influence on the proceedings will still linger. Their inability to produce the necessary performances in this tournament will increase the already considerable pressure on manager José Manuel de la Torre and intensify the scrutiny surrounding his future with the side in the wake of this truncated title defense and the disappointing results before it.

"Of course sometimes, it's frustrating," de la Torre said in his native Spanish after the defeat. "We aspired to do much more. We fell short of our objectives. There is no reason for us to (fall short). We did not reach the level that we wanted. We wanted to be in the final. We wanted to win. We fell short. There's nothing more but to keep working hard, lift our heads and drive forward."

Many people in Mexico will wonder whether de la Torre remains the man capable of leading El Tri through this critical upcoming stretch. De la Torre created some latitude with the expected victories over Canada, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago, but all of that modest credit evaporated with this disjointed effort against Panama. His hold on his job – at least from an external perspective – looks tenuous, though the prospect of changing coaches ahead of that critical qualifier presents a significant set of risks as well.

De la Torre once again contended he remains more than capable of managing the national team and pointed out that he remained contractually obligated to do so until told otherwise. Despite the public sentiment to the contrary, no one has implored him to follow that path as of yet.

"I have a contract with the national team for this whole process," de la Torre said. "It hasn't ended. The people who hired me are the ones who could decide on my situation."

Although the FMF remains in control of de la Torre's contractual fate, his tenure as Mexico boss now hinges on the response of the group he picks for the qualifiers against Honduras and the United States (Sept. 10 in Columbus, Ohio). The usefulness of this Gold Cup experience rests on whether he can pluck a few helpful players from this failed mission and use them to supplement his efforts elsewhere.

Only a handful of players from this excursion showed well enough to deserve further consideration with all of the options available. Marco Fabián distinguished himself as perhaps the most suitable of the potential alternatives with his creative displays on the left side of midfield. His clever approach work could offer a nice contrast to some of the players already in the first-team picture and provide a necessary spark in the final third. Luis Montes probably merits further consideration as an alternative off the bench after he performed reliably upon his insertion into the starting lineup. And Jorge Enríquez – if fully recovered from the hamstring injury he sustained in this tournament – presents yet another viable choice in central midfield, a necessity given de la Torre's insistence on including two holding players.

If de la Torre can turn to one or more of his Gold Cup stalwarts at some point during the arduous fixtures ahead, then he can at least derive some benefit from this frustrating and halting excursion. Those modest measures will not atone for the failure to defend the title or even reach the final, but it will at least prove that this stretch did not constitute an absolute waste of energy and time.

Lingering on the inadequacies of this ill-fated foray into the Gold Cup will not help Mexico meet its ultimate goals, though. Yes, El Tri could have and certainly should have achieved more in this tournament. Those contentions are now essentially irrelevant. For this coach and his national team, the focus must immediately shift away from the postmortem and toward the preparations for the more significant tasks ahead.

“The game goes on,” de la Torre said. “Our next game is a qualifying game. We have to prepare for that now.”

FOX Soccer's Leander Schaerlaeckens contributed from Arlington, Tex.