Commentary

Coach who started out in the USA aims to take Mexico to new heights

Mexico's excellent start to Russia 2018 under Coach Juan Carlos Osorio  is arguably El Tri's best ever at a World Cup, although Mexico does have a long history of impressive group-stage performances while reaching the knockout round in its last seven World Cup appearances.

In Russia, El Tri has beaten defending World Cup champion Germany, 1-0, and South Korea, 2-1.

In 2014, Mexico's wins over Cameroon and Croatia sandwiched a 0-0 tie with host Brazil. In 2010, El Tri beat 2006 runner-up France, 2-0. In 1998, Mexico came back from 2-0 down to tie eventual fourth-place finisher Netherlands 2-2 and won the group. In 1994, El Tri tied 1990 runner-up Italy while winning its group.

At that 1994 World Cup, Mexico exited the round of 16 in a penalty-kick tiebreaker loss to Bulgaria in which Coach Miguel Mejia Baron infamously did not employ subs for a 120-minute battle in the New Jersey summer heat. That marked the first of six straight round-of016 losses, which included a 2-0 loss to the Bruce Arena-coached USA at the 2002 World Cup.

Reaching the quarterfinals is thus the holy grail for Osorio's squad in Russia.

PAUL GARDNER'S SoccerTalk (6/18/2018:) Time for world soccer -- especially the USA -- to start taking Mexico seriously

Osorio came to the USA from his native Colombia in the mid-1980s, played college ball at the University of New Haven and Southern Connecticut State, and got his first coaching license at a U.S. Soccer Federation course taught bilingually by then-LIU coach Arnold Ramirez. Osorio served as an assistant coach of the A-League's Staten Island Vipers and MLS's MetroStars (now Red Bulls) before spending six seasons as Manchester City assistant coach. His return to the USA included stints at the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, whom he guided to a runner-up finish at MLS Cup 2008.

In a March 2018 interview with Soccer America, Osorio explained how vital his U.S. experience was to his approach to coaching. He studied other sports, such as by attending Chicago Bulls practices.

"One thing that had a great impact on me was how Americans approach the games," he said. "My time in the United States definitely marked my life forever."

His stints with Mexico's Puebla and Brazil's Sao Paulo sandwiched six titles, league and cup, with Colombia's Atletico Nacional. He became Mexico coach in late 2015 and El Tri beat the USA on U.S. soil in World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1972, and punched its ticket to Russia with three games to spare.

Osorio, however, arrived in Russia as perhaps the most unpopular coach in El Tri history, a constant target of derision from fans and pundits. Legendary Mexico forward and former El Tri coach Hugo Sanchez said: “If Osorio is such a good coach, why isn’t he coaching the Colombian team?”

A Mexican reporter, from a major Mexico City newspaper, in the Levi's Stadium press box before Mexico's March friendly against Iceland said Osorio was a bad coach because he constantly tinkered with the lineups. After El Tri won 3-0 against the Icelanders, who had conceded only four goals in their previous 15 games and hadn't conceded more than two in a game since losing to France at Euro 2016, the reporter said, "He's still a bad coach. Mexico was horrible in the first half!"

“Fuera Osorio!” (Out with Osorio!) had become a common chant from fans at El Tri's games.

But the Mexican federation never wavered in its faith in Osorio, even after a 7-0 loss to Chile at the 2016 Copa America Centenario, nor did his players.

"We didn't listen to the criticism," said Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. "It was just noise."

After fans greeted Osorio upon his return from Mexico's semifinal elimination from the 2017 Gold Cup at Mexico's airport with “Fuera Osorio!” and "Go back to your country," Hernandez posted a letter on social media that included: "I’m speechless after seeing the video with Profe Osorio’s arrival to Mexico. It made me embarrassed, it made me angry and most of all it made me very sad."

After the win over Germany, veteran Rafa Marquez said, "We dedicate the win to (Osorio) because he deserves it the most. He’s worked, he’s suffered a lot and no one believed in him apart from us and he’s planned this very well.”

On Saturday, as Mexico was beating South Korea the large continent of Mexican fans hailed the coach with chants of “El Profe Osorio!”

Pre-World Cup, the Mexican media had dismissed Osorio as a fitness coach (a role he did serve at Manchester City in the early 2000s) and mocked his academic tone (Osorio is a sports science aficionado) as Osorio racked up the Mexico's best winning percentage since the 1930s.

Mexico's strong World Cup has forced the Mexican press to change their tune, and even Sanchez had to praise Osorio's tactics against Mexico.

But the biggest tests are yet to come.

Germany's last-minute 2-1 win against Sweden prevented Mexico's six points from guaranteeing second-round passage. Mexico faces Sweden in its final Group F game on Wednesday, and a Mexico loss combined with a Germany win will likely doom El Tri.

The final verdict on Osorio will come if he can manage to take Mexico to the quarterfinals for the first time since Mexico hosted the World Cup in 1986.

6 comments about "Coach who started out in the USA aims to take Mexico to new heights".
  1. John Richardson, June 24, 2018 at 12:42 p.m.

    I hope our new general manager , Ernie Stewart , is watching !!
    Could someone please send Ernie his cell number !

  2. Bob Ashpole, June 24, 2018 at 1:22 p.m.

    I don't care what happens next, Osorio and Mexico has impressed. I saw a lot of good solid soccer. With the way Mexico has played in these first two matches, they certainly deserve to advance, but then "deserve" has little to do with advancing. 

    In watching the two matches I didn't see any superstars out there carrying the team. To the contrary Mexico stands out as an excellent team rather than just a collection of professional players assembled for a competition, which is pretty rare in international soccer. Their mentality is old school "American", never-let-up and fearless, and I mean that as high praise. Apparently Osario knows how to bring out the very best in them.

  3. Craig Cummings, June 25, 2018 at 9:17 p.m.

     He has  said that he is interested in  the USA coaching job. His kids are American.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, June 25, 2018 at 11:51 p.m.

    Yes he has said and declared his interest in the USMNT HC gig, but NOT just because his kids are US Born!!!  After reading his article and then Gardner's admonitions to US Soccer about Mexican futbol, and now reading MW's piece above, let's hope that Eranie Stewart has paid attention, and then again, perhaps Earnie is in Russia taking in all of the sights and catching a few Mexican games?!

  5. Budd Ditchendorf, June 25, 2018 at 9:19 p.m.

    John, good point. As I was reading this article I began wondering how many coaches may be ready for the next challange in July. Is US Soccer now waiting until the WC is over to find a coach? Is Osorio a name that is discussed in the private meetings of US Soccer? 

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, June 26, 2018 at 9:17 a.m.

    Osorio's contract with Mexico probably depends on Mexico advancing to the quarterfinals or not. That is a very short-sighted view, but that is a coach's reality.

    If Mexico drops Osario, we could do a lot worse than selecting him, although it would put Osario in a difficult position with the Mexican press, fans, FA and players. Probably every country in CONCACAF would be interested in hiring him.

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