Brent Latham: Mexico's lofty goals have paid off as U-23 side reaches Olympic final

Setting its targets high has benefited everyone in the Mexican Federation.
The rules of the playground are simple: when you talk tough, you better back it up.

Mexico’s Olympic team, and the whole Mexican Federation for that matter, has done just that. Today, what once looked like a far-fetched Olympic medal dream is now a bona fide reality.

Chalk it up to talent, tenacity, coaching, and organization by the Federation. But also chalk it up also to setting goals high, along with standards, and then giving the team all the resources it needs to come through by performing at its highest level.

Over the last 12 months, the FMF and this Olympic team, along with Luis Tena and the coaching staff, have done all of that.

It all begins with talent. As we all know, this is a wonderfully talented generation of Mexican players, led by the likes of Gio Dos Santos and the increasingly impressive Jorge Enriquez, whose stock has multiplied in value with each Olympic performance.

Newcomers to the side have thrown their hats in the future star ring during these Games as well. Darvin Chavez and Hiram Mier among others have been solid as rocks on the back line, increasing their stock and self confidence several times over.

But many countries have young talent. All of the nations Mexico has left in its wake at the Games, from Switzerland to Senegal to Japan, are stocked with good young players. That doesn’t guarantee results. To accomplish anything with young talent, a nation needs more than that.

It starts with good coaching, and it’s probably time to admit that this U-23 Mexican side has had just that. Tena’s game plans have matched opponents perfectly as Mexico progressed towards the title game.

Another step is tenacity, which El Tri proved to have in spades in the semifinal match against Japan. When the Asians went ahead early, things could have fallen apart quickly for Mexico. Instead, in what many would consider a surprise against a team known for persevering, it was Mexico that proved the far more determined combatant in overcoming the early deficit and dominating the rest of the match.

But perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. This isn’t the old Mexico of “ya merito.” It’s the new El Tri, with higher goals and expectations, and the skill and determination to match.

Combined with impeccable preparation led to this sparkling day for Mexican soccer. The Mexican U-23s’ process leading up to the Olympics was unmatched by any team in the world. This whole adventure started last year with a predictably harsh showing at Copa America, but the story got increasingly compelling through victories in the Pan Am Games, CONCACAF qualifying, and the Toulon tournament.

That’s three tournament wins out of four - if you can even count the Copa America for the U-23s. So victory shouldn’t come as a surprise in the medal hunt at the Olympics. The doubters among us need to change their paradigms.

It can no longer be a surprise when this new Mexico shows qualities which previous Mexican generations never could. This is the new El Tri - a team that sets the highest goals and then strives out to achieve them.

Of course many will still say that Mexico won’t have joined the true world powers of soccer until it goes deep into a World Cup. Today, Mexico - as talented as it is - has joined the world’s powers the day it decided that it could, by setting goals high and organizing to reach them.

When the World Cup returns in two years, you shouldn't be surprised when El Tri meets whatever goal it has set - semifinalist, even finalist. You also shouldn't be surprised, if Mexico decides that’s what it’s capable of doing...if El Tri ends up top of the Olympic podium on Saturday.

This is a national team program that knows how to back up high goals with accomplishment, capable of achieving whatever challenge world soccer throws at it.