USA is better off without the hysteria surrounding El Tri

By Ridge Mahoney

The news that former Fire and Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio is on the brink of being hired to direct the Mexican national team should be celebrated by U.S. fans.

Counting interim head coaches, Osorio will be the sixth man to lead Mexico since U.S. Soccer hired Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer of 2011, and represents yet another example of how strident, over-the-top scrutiny of a national team does more harm than good.

This isn’t a commentary on the qualifications or lack of same of Osorio, a native of Colombia who has coached in his native country as well as the United States (Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, Mexico (Puebla) and Brazil (Sao Paulo). His quirky habit of taking copious notes during games and shuffling through them often during post-game press conferences is not at issue here, nor are the bridges he burned to leave the Fire for New York, which cost the Red Bulls compensation in the form of draft picks and cash.

No, the hiring of Osorio is another example of how volatile and impossible is the job of coaching Mexico, a country insanely demanding of its national team and the men chosen to direct it. Some view this excruciating, constant pressure as an attribute, a harsh scrutiny that yields examination and inevitable upgrading.

Instead, I would postulate such over-the-top madness is a significant advantage for Mexico’s rivals. Whomever is chosen to lead El Tri, he is besieged constantly by critics of his selections, formations, tactics, choice of training drills, whatever.

Coaches of Mexican league clubs change over at a dizzying rate -- it’s not unheard of for a struggling team to change head coaches not once but twice during a 17-game Apertura or Clausura season -- and while most of the men named to lead El Tri have endured such scrutiny at the club level that doesn’t mean they’ve been conditioned to handle the big job.

The bombastic, flamboyant Miguel Herrera endured scathing criticism while leading Mexico to its Gold Cup title in late July, aided by bizarre officiating decisions in the knockout games leading up to the final. Mexico beat Jamaica comfortably, 3-1, so Herrera should have been set up for a few weeks of celebration and relaxation.

The next day, at Philadelphia International Airport, Herrera accosted and/or attacked one of his harshest critics, TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinoli. Usually, the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) cuts loose a coach because of poor results or unmet expectations, which tend to be extreme. Sure, Herrera’s temper and brashness had drawn him into spats and sparring matches many times before, yet never did his club days did he swoop upon a reporter and belt him in the neck, as he alleged to have done.

The FMF dismissed him a day later, and chose Tigres head coach Ricardo Ferretti to lead Mexico for the next four games, including the monumental Concacaf Cup showdown against the USA in the Rose Bowl Saturday. Anybody who thinks this upheaval just six weeks before an unprecedented battle against its biggest rival is beneficial to Mexico is living in a dream world. For whatever reason, Herrera reached his breaking point and now Mexico is once again cast into new territory.

Herrera was hired in October 2013, to guide Mexico through its intercontinental playoff against New Zealand to land a spot in the World Cup. Incredibly, he was the fourth man to lead Mexico during that calendar year, and kept his job through the World Cup and then the Gold Cup.

I’ve seen some heated conversations between national team head coaches and pesky journalists but not in my worst nightmares could I envision Bob Gansler, Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley or Jurgen Klinsmann throwing a punch at one in an airport. This has as much to do with their personalities as the job’s responsibilities, and so if the hysteria surrounding the U.S. national team job never approaches the extreme madness of leading Mexico, that’s fine by me. I’d much rather have Mexico's coach and his players crumble and shudder when they face the USA, which I believe has given the Americans a significant psychological boost in the past.

U.S. Soccer, rightly, takes criticism at times for moving too slowly, for making poor decisions on hiring national team coaches -- at all levels -- and not holding them accountable. But there's value in stability and continuity, which Mexico seldom enjoys with its national team. There can be too much pressure as well as not enough. Landon Donovan is among many who believe a loss on Saturday should terminate Klinsmann's tenure though U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has declared no such move will be made. 

The hiring of Osorio highlights the best and worst of the furor enveloping El Tri, which seldom meets the expectations placed upon it by its fanatical fans and what can only be described as a zealous horde of commentators and reporters. For every former player and coach and responsible journalist who ask pertinent questions and offer their opinions, there are dozens -- of not hundreds – more than ready to upload a screed of how bad things are and what must change.

Herrera’s record with Mexico was good but hardly spectacular -- 18 wins, seven losses, 11 ties -- so despite winning the Gold Cup he wasn’t deemed irreplaceable. His energetic antics on the sidelines endeared him to many fans and journalists but as it has been for every Mexico head coach, the hounds of hostility were always nipping at his heels.

It cost Herrera his job, and if a disjointed, confused Mexico loses to the USA on Saturday, the Americans will once again have capitalized on a fanatical zeal south of the border that sometimes goes too far.

5 comments about "USA is better off without the hysteria surrounding El Tri".
  1. Kent James, October 8, 2015 at 10:15 a.m.

    I agree, intense pressure for results (especially when the person under that pressure cannot control a lot of factors that determine those results) is often counterproductive. I think the tenure of most US coaches reflects a more constructive relationship with the coach. On the other hand, too little pressure can lead to lackadaisical performances. If JK feels no pressure (especially given his philosophy of making sure his players feel pressure), that's a problem. While a US loss should not automatically mean JK should be dismissed, a bad loss should lead to that result. JK's had sufficient time at the helm to be completely responsible for the results (at least as much as any coach can be responsible).

  2. Thomas Hosier, October 8, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    I have been a long time fan of Jurgen but results are the measure of a coach. It is disappointing to see the same-o same-o with the US National team. For years we have been seeking to develop a USA System ... I would prefer a coach with a different mind set! One that has a mind set like Paul Breitner (also German) who was almost the German National Team coach once. I do like his thinking that soccer players are not just athletes ... they are artists. He believes he have never made it to the pros if he was trained in the USA and he tells why in this interview:

  3. Dan Phillips, October 8, 2015 at 12:33 p.m.

    If we do NOT play lazy/Jozy Altidore, we have a chance

  4. John Soares, October 8, 2015 at 12:49 p.m.

    At the VERY least, you offer a reason to keep JK

  5. beautiful game, October 8, 2015 at 12:57 p.m.

    Based on player efficacy, the Tri have a significant advantage over the USMNT, i.e., soccerIQ, decision-making, and team effort. Results are achieved by the players on the pitch that are able to make things happen and deliver; and the player's confidence in the coaches tactics. That's been a mostly missing.

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