COLUMBUS, Ohio – If Mexico wasn't already an enigma before its loss to Honduras, it certainly is now.
El Tri has more talent on paper than any team in CONCACAF, save for arguably the USA, but through seven games of the Hexagonal, it has massively underachieved to the tune of a 1-1-5 record.
And now, entering its crucial game against the USA at Crew Stadium on Tuesday, Mexico will have a different coach than it did against Honduras four days prior, further muddling the picture for the Yanks.
“Sometimes it goes really well right away, and sometimes it will take time,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said regarding a team adjusting to a new coach.
Following a shocking 2-1 home loss to Honduras on Friday, Mexico sacked under-fire Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, and replaced him with assistant Luis Fernando Tena.
Oftentimes, removing a coach from the picture is a weight off players' shoulders, and teams respond with improved performances. With this Mexico team though, the only thing certain is that nobody quite knows how Tena's side will react when it takes the field Tuesday night.
“I think any time there is change, particularly from the managerial side, it usually triggers a positive response,” USA goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Whatever people say they're going through right now, I don't buy it.
“They're some amazing players, and like I said, they've set the standard in terms of ball possession, player interchange, so we've got a lot to worry about.”
The ability has been there all along, but Mexico has not put together one complete performance in seven Hexagonal matches thus far and, as a result, watching Brazil 2014 at home has become a genuine possibility.
“I know they have a good team, but they're struggling a lot in this qualification,” U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones said.
Exactly why Mexico has struggled so much is a bit of a mystery, but it was clear that El Tri lacked attacking intent under Chepo, as it has scored just four goals in seven Hexagonal games.
“We can't look on the inside of the Mexico team, we don't know what they went through over the last couple months internally,” Klinsmann said. “We have the highest respect for their coach, whether it's Chepo or it's Fernando now.”
Mexico's managerial situation is hardly settled. Tena has only been named interim coach, and unless he wins against the USA, it's possible the match in Columbus will be his first and last in charge of the national team. Regardless of the managerial outlook, the U.S. knows it will have its hands full on Tuesday night.
“Whatever the situation was with the manager, even though that's over now, [it] doesn't play into our psyche," Howard said. “We know how good they're going to be when they step on the field tomorrow.”