LAS VEGAS — It's fair to accuse Juan Carlos Osorio of being a man with an obsession. The Mexico coach spoke Tuesday of watching the weekend's Premier League action. He recently scouted the Copa Centroamericana in Panama. He keeps up with soccer in his native Colombia, with leagues he's coached in like MLS and Brazil. Osorio is obsessed with the game.
No, it's not a crime to accuse Osorio of obsession — but you must choose your accusation carefully. That's a lesson Chivas left back Edwin Hernandez learned this week.
"Somebody asked me what it was that I was lacking to be called and I said that I think it's 15 centimeters of height," the 5-foot-5 Hernandez said Monday.
Osorio was asked Tuesday about the comments and said he had done a little research. After consulting with a press officer, Osorio "can categorically say that I’ve never spoken about the height players who come to the national team have."
"Yes I have spoken, however, about aerial play and the ability of players in a four-man defense to play aerially," he continued. "If this was a factor to consider, surely Andres (Guardado), Hirving (Lozano), Tecate (Jesus Corona), Javier (Aquino), Giovani (dos Santos), Elias (Hernandez), Luis (Montes), would not have a place in the national team."
Of course, none of the players on Osorio's lengthy list is a defender. But Osorio does look at the game in an interesting way. In the Copa America Centenario, even his goalkeeper selection depended on the style of play the opposing team deployed — a goalkeeper good with his feet for a team that presses defenders, a goalkeeper good in the air for one that is known for scoring from headers.
Wednesday, against a team of Iceland's hopefuls, Osorio might not be able to make informed decisions based on the opponent. For all his acumen in scouting and fervent devouring of any match on offer, it's unlikely he's well versed in the leagues from which Iceland has drawn its squad — largely Norway, Denmark and the amateur Icelandic league.
Based on what the team showed during last year's fairy-tale run to the Euro quarterfinals, though, and the roster Heimir Hallgrimsson has called in, Osorio is ready for a chance for Mexico to deal with physical forwards who are threats in the box.
"It’s going to be a test for many of our players who surely further forward, hopefully, have the chance to compete with other international teams who play in a similar way, be it in the Confederations Cup or later on the World Cup. So it seems like a good chance for us to evaluate the aerial ability of our players," Osorio said.
Osorio will be particularly eager to see how his defenders deal with an attacking threat that could be similar to the one posed by Portugal and Russia — Mexico's group-mates at the Confederations Cup. The majority of this group (Osorio said it is one national team but two groups: one going to the Confederations and the other to the Gold Cup this summer) will not be in Russia. The players who will could be the ones who manage to get into the air and play that game the best.
He will be watching — carefully and repeatedly. He's a man with a soccer obsession, and a winning obsession. Beyond that, be careful what you call it.