SPORTS

Can El Tri's New Coach Keep His Job?

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 19, 2010  Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre, the newly appointed head coach of Mexican national football team attends a press conference in Mexico city, capital of Mexico, Oct. 18, 2010 (Newscom TagID: zumasportswest719705) [Photo via Newscom]

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 19, 2010 Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre, the newly appointed head coach of Mexican national football team attends a press conference in Mexico city, capital of Mexico, Oct. 18, 2010 (Newscom TagID: zumasportswest719705) [Photo via Newscom]  (Xinhua)

The Mexican National Team has had 17 men guide its team since 1990, a little more than a coach per year. 

The United States, by contrast, has had five. 

Against that backdrop of instability enters the next victim, er, coach to guide El Tri. His name is José de la Torre, and his task is not one to be envied, given the high coaching mortality over the past two decades.

Some of his predecessors who have bitten the dust had impressive resumes. César Luís Menotti coached Argentina to the 1978 world championship; Bora Milutinovic led the Mexicans to the quarterfinals in his first tenure as national coach; and Hugo Sánchez filled the net for Real Madrid in La Liga with relative ease.

Whatever their pedigree, however, they all met the same fate. The reasons for their dismissals varied: at times the team didn't respond well to the coach, the team under-performed or choked in big spots, or the Mexican Football Federation pushed the panic button.

So after all the disappointment -- some of it to their arch-rivals to the north -- it is del Torre's responsibility to guide El Tri out of the relative darkness and into a new light.

A former Mexican international, de la Torre, who turns 45 Saturday, has coached for only four years with much success. In 2006, "Chepo," as he is fondly called, directed Chivas de Guadalajara to its 11th championship, becoming the youngest coach to guide a team to a title in the past decade. He also guided Toluca to a pair of Mexican championships since taking over in 2008.

But as we all know, the pressures of international soccer is light years away from the domestic game. The eyes of a nation are watching every move you make, on and off the field. In México, that is magnified by the great expectations -- and sometimes low realizations -- of the national side.

Moreover, de la Torre's tenure begins as CONCACAF competition has stiffened over the years. The U.S. has improved, and perennial powerhouses Honduras and Costa Rica are as strong as ever. 

De la Torre also inherits a team in which 13 players were sanctioned for holding an unauthorized late-night party after a friendly loss to Colombia in October. But de la Torre tried to nip the off-the-field challenge in the bud, saying recently that proper conduct was high on his list of priorities.

"Discipline and order are valued in all institutions," he said. "We will have to agree on order, discipline and what it means to be in a national select, to be an example in all aspects, every day, 24 hours a day and everywhere."

Even though qualifying isn't until 2012 and a World Cup is more than three years away, de la Torre still has plenty on his plate. A friendly match against the Americans at an undetermined U.S. venue is scheduled for February 9, the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States is set for June -- with perhaps another battle with the Americans to follow in the final -- and Copa América in Argentina is due in July.

The big prize next year is the Gold Cup. Winning that tournament would mean qualifying for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013, which is a small dress rehearsal for the big show in 2014.

In the U.S., it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world if the Americans stumbled against Mexico in February or in the Gold Cup.

In México, it remains to be seen if the Mexican federation and supporters will be as forgiving -- or if de la Torre will be the latest in a long line of coaches to be shown the door.

Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for 30 years, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.

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