Mexican fans are hoping that Raul Gutierrez (pictured) has the same level of success with the nation's under-23 team as he did with the under-17 squad. (Photo: Mexsport)
CARSON, California -- Raul Gutierrez took over as Mexico under-23 head coach in early 2014. With that appointment, even before stepping on a training pitch, he inherited plenty of pressure.
The 48-year-old was tasked with the job of replicating what his predecessor – Luis Fernando Tena -- accomplished in 2012 by capturing CONCACAF and Olympic titles.
As a defending champion in a football-loving nation, expectations are high. Mexican fans want more gold and, this time, Gutierrez is the man in charge of making it happen.
That road begins in earnest on Friday with a CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship match against Costa Rica at the StubHub Center. Honduras-Haiti will open the Group B doubleheader.
“We are the defending champion, but we are not the same team,” said Gutierrez, who guided the Tricolor to the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup title. “This is another generation that wants to follow on the same path. It is motivating to know that you can be a champion if you work hard and set goals.
“We will try our best with the youth and talent we have. In 2012, it was a team with an interesting profile, which jumped out at you and now everyone expects the same. That means there is more work to do.”
Three years ago, the Mexican roster in London was filled with established under-23 standouts such as Giovani Dos Santos, Raul Jimenez, Marco Fabian, Diego Reyes and Miguel Ponce. When overage stars goalkeeper Jesus Corona, Carlos Salcido and Oribe Peralta were added to the mix, it became a potent side.
Gutierrez’ has brought in players that have earned international experience, winning gold at the 2014 Central American & Caribbean Games and silver at the 2015 Pan American Games, while sprinkling in others with success at the under-20 level.
Although this is a new generation with different abilities to offer, the Tricolor is expected to be a contender.
“These are tough matches,” Gutierrez finished. “We know how teams come out and play, but it means more to them when they play Mexico. We know the United States will be tough at home, but we have a history in this tournament.
“Are we favorites? History might say that, but the labels are gone now. We need to win these games.”