Category Archives: Mexico

Manager a-go-go

Roy Hodgson introduced as the new Liverpool manager

Now that some of the good teams are knocked out of the World Cup, expect a lot of movement in terms of managers in the next few weeks, for both club and country.

Javier Aguirre, Mexico. Aguirre resigned as Mexico manager, falling on his sword and taking responsibility for Mexico’s showing. To a degree, he’s right (it was a stupid decision to go with Oscar Pérez in goal and he had misplaced faith in the obviously overwhelmed Efraín Juárez). At the same time, he’s wrong because Mexico’s expectations were too high. The team that went to South Africa was a 2nd round team (perhaps a quarterfinal team if it played its socks off). That’s the first problem. The second problem was skill level. Mexico is very talented in midfield, especially with Giovanni dos Santos’s improvement over the last year. But the team has no strikers: Guillermo Franco isn’t that good and Carlos Vela isn’t developing (here’s hoping he makes a dos Santos-like breakthrough in the next year or so). When Cuauhtémoc Blano is still seriously considered for national team duty, the cupboard is bare. Mexico needs to develop young players and put its faith in them (Javier Hernández comes to mind), much like Germany has done.

Roy Hodgson, Liverpool. Hodgson left a decent Fulham team for a Liverpool squad in disarray. What he does get is a massive step up in reputation (no matter what I think about Liverpool, it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world). Hodgson is clearly a stop-gap and he might not even have been the first choice (Didier Deschamps reportedly turned Liverpool down). So, one of the biggest clubs in the world hires a middling manager with precious little success on his resume. Fascinating. I think this was a political choice and I hope Hodgson makes the best of it. But when the clear-out comes – and it will come sooner rather than later, what with the owner debt and lack of European competition – Hodgson will be the sacrificial lamb. He should’ve stayed at Fulham.

Bob Bradley, United States. Let’s make this clear: Bob Bradley should NOT be fired. Although starting Ricardo Clark was a massive error, Bradley’s system works for the United States, as it’s currently constructed. In short, he gets good results out of sometimes lacking talent (the distressing habit of allowing goals in the first 20 minutes notwithstanding). The bigger problem is that, like Mexico, the US has no go-to striker (if we’re being honest, the two best strikers are midfielders: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey). Jozy Altidore has the potential to be very good but he needs to play like he did against Algeria all the time (he was virtually absent against Ghana). Some of that is the coach’s fault. But national team managers are put in a position where they only get to see their players for weeks at a time. It falls on the USSF, MLS, and players to get into situations to maximize their skill development.

Fabio Capello, England. Of course, the English tabloids are calling for his head. They are, if nothing else, predictable. England’s problem is similar to Mexico’s: it fancies itself a world soccer power when, in reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road player capable of extraordinary results once in a while. In fact, according to Soccernomics, England consistently punches above its weight and wins a lot of its matches, except when it counts. England’s problems are twofold: first, it’s a relatively small country, in terms of population (meaning there are fewer players to choose from) and it’s relatively insular in terms of coaching and skills development (the Everton academy is a bit of an exception). Don Fabio helps with both of those by exposing English players to Italian soccer philosophy. Second, the players it develops are all the same. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Carragher. Aside from skill level, they’re all basically the same player. And they can’t play together. I think Capello will learn from his mistakes and I think he has the stones to leave some of those players out next time (clearly Gerrard was England’s best player at the World Cup – he should be the captain).

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¡Arriba Rayados!

Aldo de Nigris scores for Monterrey (Mexisport)

My favorite Mexican side, Rayados de Monterrey, have finally won another title after dispatching Cruz Azul 6-4 on aggregate. This is their third title overall and their first since 2003. Perhaps Cruz Azul should have won the second leg after dominating possession for long stretches. However, they couldn’t top the Monterrey manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich’s magic (he’s taken 4 teams to the final and won 4 times).

Aldo de Nigris scored the decisive goal for Monterrey. He played with a heavy heart after his brother, Antonio, died in Greece last month of a heart attack. Keeper Jonathan Orozco explained that it was team unity that drove Rayados: “The way this team hung together is the key. We have always stayed united despite everything. That’s the strength of this team.”

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World Cup Qualifiers: A tale of two countries

Being an analysis of World Cup Qualifiers in the CONCACAF region in two parts. The first part being a reconstruction of actual events during the US-Honduras match in Chicago, in which the US was victorious 2-1. The second part being my incredulous reaction at Mexico’s dependence on calcified Cuauhtémoc Blanco. The third part being my imagining of what happened in the boardroom at the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol when Mexico lost.

Part the first.

Bob Bradley had no choice but to blow up his starting line-up. The starting XI that took the field in Costa Rica will never, ever be on the same pitch again, unless Bradley decides he hates himself that much. The first thirty minutes were uninspired, to say the least. The back four look like that girl in high school who puts out if you even make eyes at her. Needless to say, they gave up another early goal. But this time Landycakes stepped up. He played rather well, much like Benny Feilhaber (who is my man of the match – the whole tenor of the game changed when he came on after half-time). Landycakes showed that, if he wanted to, he could actually succeed in Europe.

Part the second.

Three things I love about Spanish commentators:

1. They know the correct term is “Salvadoran”, not “Salvadorian” or “El Salvadorian” or any variation thereof

2. The repetition of important words, like “penal” or the more famous “goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!”

3. Their absolute amazement at everything that happens on the field. They display a child-like wonderment at all kinds of things, from a defender playing the ball square to a successful long pass to Galindo’s stupid hip-check that gave the ball back.

They clearly would never say that Mexico played like crap. I will, though: Mexico played like crap. They’ve been playing like crap for all of 2009. They will continue to play like crap until they hire a good manager. Not a retread like Javier Aguirre or Sven-Gören Eriksson. Not someone who can’t manage for crap, like Hugo Sánchez. But someone truly new. Not only that, but the bigwigs at the FMF (who are only slightly more idiotic than the Canadian Soccer Association and Real Madrid voters) must show some patience. They must allow the manager to do his job. Otherwise, Mexico is going to slide right out of the 2010 World Cup. And I’m going laugh.

Part the third.

INT. – BOARDROOM, NIGHT

Executive 1 [distraught]: What do we do now?

Executive 2 [even more distraught]: Blame everyone else, of course.

Executive 3 moves to the window. He calmly opens it and jumps out, landing on the cracked pavement.

Executive 2 [excited]: We’ll blame him!

Executives 1 and 2 dance around, plotting how to hire the national team’s fifth coach in 2 years.

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World Cup Qualifiers in haikus

3 June 2009: US v. Costa Rica

Beasley at left back

A knife in a light socket

Bradley’s seppuku

6 June 2009: US v. Honduras

Closing down the mids

Landycakes bursts down the wing

Benny and the jets

6 June 2009: Mexico v. El Salvador

Mexico is lost

Who takes the penalty? Who?

Cuauhtémoc Blanco!

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World Cup Qualifier: Mexico v. Canada

It was a rare treat last night for me. I got to watch my native land (Canada) battle my adopted land (Mexico). Muchas gracias, Telemundo! Te voy a comprar una cerveza en octubre. So, of course, I had to watch.

I tuned in to the standard definition broadcast. I wasn’t amused at that but at least it was in Chiapas rather than Estadio Azteca. I’m pretty sure La selección mexicana hasn’t lost there since about 1810. So that gave me hope, especially since Canada was coming off a terrible, terrible loss to Honduras in Montreal. It was tragic and probably killed its hopes of advancing. But, of course, I held out hope: Sven-Göran Eriksson is the new Mexico manager. Perhaps he’ll screw things up.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Mexico won 2-1 in heavy rain.

Mexico looked the best it has in a good long while. I attribute this to Eriksson embracing a youth movement. Andrés Guardado looked very good. He ran the Canadian midfielders and defenders ragged with his pace. He had several good touches. Giovanni dos Santos, though, looked rather ordinary. But Omar Bravo once again came through for this country, scoring at 55 minutes. Rafa Márquez added Mexico’s second goal in the 72nd minute. Márquez even handed the captain’s armband to Cuauhtémoc Blanco when the latter entered the match in the 88th minute. It was to be his final match; after the game he retired. (Perhaps a blog in appreciation of Blanco is in the offing… perhaps not, though.)

Canada, as usual, played inspired soccer for about 35 minutes. They only kicked it into overdrive in the second half when they fell behind. And by then it was too late. Granted, Canada hung with the second best team in North America until Bravo scored. The goal seemed deflating at first; Dwayne de Rosario, though, impressed on his mates the urgency of the situation. Canada pushed forward and were eventually rewarded with an Ali Gerba goal in the 77th minute. The situation looks downright bleak for Canada now; qualifying for the next round requires a series of fortuitous events after the series of unfortunate events of the last five days.

I still don’t think Eriksson is the manager Mexico needed. Although they looked good last night, I attribute that to the young pups finally set loose. Tactically, Mexico looked average. I’m sure Eriksson was none too impressed with Jonny Magallón’s frequent runs, which left him out of position (to be fair, he played well on his line, too). Eriksson is not the manager I would’ve picked; he simply doesn’t have the tactical imagination. Though it’s working so far, the true test is when Mexico plays the US. I’ll be looking forward to that.

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Mexico’s Olympic failure

I came across an article here which examines the Mexican U-23 team in the aftermath of their failure to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Not surprisingly, the Mexico City dailies are calling for Hugo Sánchez’s head on a plate. Normally, I would say this is an overreaction but there is a reason he was canned by Pumas 3 years ago: he’s simply not a very good manager. This is a position I’ve taken for a long time and I’d like to think it’s been proven now.

But Mexico’s problems go beyond the manager. Mexico’s problems are institutional. For the last decade or so, as the countries around them have improved (I’m thinking mainly the United States and, to a lesser degree, Canada), Mexico has remained stagnant. They’re afflicted with the disease of the past: they think it’s still 1980 or 1990 when they could show up to any venue in CONCACAF and win on sheer talent. That’s no long the case. The United States can field a genuinely good team, especially on home soil. Canada is capable of winning any given match. Guatemala is occasionally good, as is Honduras. True, there are doormats but it’s more crowded at the top than before.

Mexico’s problem is that it refuses to admit this. Luis Bueno has written here and in other places about that. Mexican players have lately been showing more class – shaking hands post match, etc. – but until recently they behaved like the emperor with no clothes: contemptuously looking down on those with clothes as if they are the crazy ones. Sánchez played into this, creating (reinforcing?) a poisonous culture around the Mexican national team. I’m going to do something I rarely do: agree with the Mexico City dailies. Sánchez needs to be fired.

Hugo Sánchez was never the right choice. He’s overmatched tactically and, more importantly, he’s a relic of the bygone era of automatic Mexican dominance. Mexico needs new blood. To use a tired expression, the federation needs to think outside the box. They need someone who is tactically sound and a good motivator. In the first article, Sergio Tristan suggests Raul Arias at San Luis or Daniel Guzmán at Santos. Both are relatively young and have good credentials at the club level. They’re both tactically sound. I think the Mexican federation could do worse than one of those two. They need someone who will harness the country’s abundant young talent. With players like Vela, Guardado, dos Santos, and Ochoa, Mexico is primed to have some very good years. The federation needs to hire a manager who can take advantage of these talents.

But more than that, the Mexican federation needs to re-think its place in the world and in CONCACAF. The sooner they re-evaluate and get serious about the regional tournaments the sooner they’ll reach the heights of past teams. As it stands now, Mexico is looking up at the US.

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