Tom Marshall: Time up for Chepo?

It is now or never for Mexico's head coach, as a dismal 2013 has many calling for his head.
In a press conference at the start of 2013, the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) listed making Brazil 2014 as the minimum requirement for Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s national team.

Grandiose statements of aiming to reach the final of the Confederations Cup and winning the Gold Cup followed, but the fundamental objective has always been making the World Cup.

One by one, the objectives have fallen by the wayside and confidence has been sapped from the players as one turgid performance followed another. That culminated Sunday night with another lackluster display by a different set of national team players at El Tri’s Gold Cup opener at the Rose Bowl.

“We started without confidence and that can’t happen; we have to get together and talk about it,” said Marco Fabian immediately after the 2-1 loss to Panama – the first time ever El Tri has lost to the Central American nation.

If you cast your mind back to a couple weeks ago, it was Carlos Salcido reacting to an uninspiring 2-1 defeat to Italy in the Confederations Cup that gave us an insight into what players in El Tri are thinking.

“I’ve always said we’re running around like crazy people and we lack depth in our play,” Salcido told reporters after the Confederations Cup game.

Mistrust? Running around like headless chickens? There’s a common theme and, unfortunately, it all comes back to a coach who is refusing to provide answers at present, either on or off the pitch.

“(The players) were imprecise, without rhythm and intensity; it’s not the soccer we are used to in the national team,” said Chepo, later adding: “All teams go through ups and downs, we have to work and force the engine to move forward.”

That quote could’ve been from almost any of the 13 games this year, but happens to be from Sunday night.

Only in meaningless games against Japan and Nigeria have El Tri showed some semblance of the type of form people expect. The same speech about lifting the team and hard work has come after disappointments in World Cup qualifying, the Confederations Cup, and now the opening match at the Gold Cup.

So far, they haven’t responded to De la Torre’s efforts to turn around the poor form, which is a worrying state of affairs with vital World Cup qualifiers coming up in September against Honduras and the United States. Another couple of bad results and qualification is seriously in doubt.

Fans have obviously made up their minds that Chepo needs to go. That could be seen at the Rose Bowl, outside the team hotel in Brazil, from cries of “Chepo out” from the steep bleachers in the Estadio Azteca earlier this summer, as well as in the trending topics on social networks.

Those same fans have seen Mexico coaches get fired for much less than has happened in 2013 and are unhappy not just at the results, but the conservative style Chepo has adopted in the last 12 months, especially in home games.

Against Panama on Sunday it was the same with no cutting edge or obvious strategy. Mexico was both weak at the back and impotent upfront, even if Chepo did mix it up and play a 4-3-3.

Problem positions remain and Chepo has dallied in finding solutions. Right back has been one nightmare after another, the vital central midfield positions are still a huge question mark, as is the best formation, who should accompany Chicharito, which goalkeeper should start, and so on.  

It’s not all Chepo’s fault, with players taking a slice of the blame, but the buck stops with the coach and if he can’t lift this squad against an understrength Canada on Thursday, it should be game over for him.

Two wins in 13 games during 2013 is not good enough and the wave of negativity could legitimately damage World Cup qualification chances, as incredible as that would’ve sounded back in January.