• Monday Jun 27, 2011

    Mexico proves worth of "Chepo"

    By Ivan Orozco


    PASADENA, California - If Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre didn't feel like he had anything to prove at the Gold Cup, many felt he coached like it.

    Six wins -- several by lopsided scores, enduring the loss of six players - five due to a doping issue, and overcoming a two-goal deficit in the final to beat the United States for the title was enough to earn "Chepo" and his team lavish praise.

    "As a coach, I'm fine," De la Torre said. "I'm going to enjoy the moment, live it, and many moments will come and in the meantime. We just have to enjoy it.

    "I think that if there's something from the team that stood out, is something that I mentioned in the last press conference, the mentality that the team had to overcome every adversity."

    It was a more serene De la Torre than the one who bristled at the suggestion in March that he was the second choice of the Mexican federation to replace his predecessor Javier Aguirre after he resigned following the World Cup.

    "Look, let's clear something up here," de la Torre said with a frown during an interview in San Diego. "I am not the second choice or the first choice. I was simply asked to do a job as the national team coach and that is what I am doing. OK. I want to clear that up with you and let's leave it at that."

    The terse reply came after De la Torre had coached Mexico in two friendly matches since being selected in October as the man in charge of El Tri. His new team was to face Venezuela in a friendly. He was in the middle of the task at hand: bring Mexico out of a funk. El Tri needed a boost.

    But FMF had been last year clear that its first option was Monterrey coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich. But he declined, choosing to remain at Monterrey and citing his family for the decision.

    De la Torre was designated in October as manager, understanding he would leave to Toluca become coach after the Mexican Apertura. He made his February 9 in a with a 2-0 victory in a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    A 3-1 victory over Paraguay followed with 1-1 draws against Venezuela and Ecuador in Mexico's preparation for the Gold Cup. Any doubts among El Tri's faithful if he was a good choice have been largely muted.

    In less than a month, De la Torre has been credited with assembling what many consider to be the best Mexican team in recent years.

    A Gold Cup side that shut out three of six teams, allowed more than one goal only once, and outscored its opponents 22-4, demonstrated itself to be versatile, agile, strong and speedy with a handful of young players considered stars who play club soccer in Europe.

    Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Pablo Barrera, Giovani dos Santos and Aldo De Nigris earned near universal praise. It also showed itself to be poised, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the first 23 minutes of the final to score four unanswered strikes to beat the United States 4-2 in the final.

    "You have to give Mexico a lot of credit," Donovan said. "They are a difficult team to play against. They have bunch of guys that can make special plays. Tonight I thought Gio (dos Santos) was excellent. I can say Barrera was excellent. Actually of all things we did a good job with Chicharito (Javier Hernandez), preventing his chances. They just had too much for us."

    United States goalkeeper Tim Howard also credited Mexico's young talent for an almost dominant performance in the final.

    "They've got some special players," Howard said. "It was tough. We didn't expect that to happen. They did a good job of passing. You think of Mexico as one-two, touch-touch but they opened us up, they played us over the top and they hit us. Right now it all hurts. It sucks getting your (butt) kicked."

    The United States was one of only two teams to even hold a lead against Mexico in the Gold Cup.

    Since De la Torre took over, Mexico is unbeaten in its 11 matches -- the best start for any Mexico coach.

    De la Torre played down the stat by quickly crediting his players and his coaching staff.

    But for how long can El Chepo continue with recent success?

    He will have time to analyze his squad before Mexico begins World Cup qualifying next year.

    He doesn't have to worry about coaching the younger national teams. Luis Fernando Tena is coaching the under-23 team in the Copa America next month. He will also handle the pre-Olympic squad.

    It is part of the Mexican federation's plan to have two capable coaches. They want to prevent a repeat of the collapse that were two previous coaching experiments.

    Hugo Sanchez and Sven Goran Eriksson are a couple of asterisks in Mexican soccer history that could be attached to what people in Mexico consider failure. Sanchez failed to qualify to the 2008 Olympic Games while Eriksson could never earn the trust and respect of his players.

    That is not the case with de la Torre. The Gold Cup Mexico team appears to be united despite turmoil during the tournament.

    Mexico played as if it had something to prove. Perhaps it was because its coach had something to demonstrate.

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