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'I'm here to make history' - Juan Carlos Osorio talks USA-Mexico, American soccer and more


GOALEXCLUSIVE

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If there are two jobs that can make a man's hair turn gray. One is being the president of the United States, and the other is coach of the Mexican national team. Anyone who has watched Barack Obama make the transition over the past eight years or Juan Carlos Osorio over the past year can attest to this phenomenon.

It has only been a year since Osorio formally took over as boss of El Tri. While the results he has produced are impressive (12-1-2), he hasn't avoided the considerably scrutiny that awaits every manager who takes on the job. That lone loss, a 7-0 demolition at the hands of eventual Copa America champion Chile rocked Osorio to his core, but he has rebounded and now has a chance to finally atone for that loss by delivering a victory El Tri fans have spent 15 years yearning for.

Three key individual matchups for Mexico vs. USA

Osorio knows full well what a Mexico win here on Friday would mean. Along with snapping the U.S. national team's perfect record at MAPFRE Stadium in World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, it would also push El Tri that much closer to where Osorio is hoping to lead them, on the way to a strong showing at the 2018 World Cup.

Osorio is unlike any Mexico manager before him because of the strong ties he has to the United States. He went to college here, his children were born here and he honed his coaching chops here during multiple stints as an assistant and head coach in MLS. The Colombian-born coach never misses a chance to express how grateful he is to the U.S. for what it has given him, but that won't stop him from doing everything he can to lead El Tri to their first World Cup qualifying victory on American soil since 1972.

With Friday's showdown with the United States just two days away, Osorio sat down with Goal USA to discuss the big match, his career and much more:

GOAL: Mexico's struggles in Columbus in World Cup qualifying are well documented. Have you watched the previous games? Why do you think Mexico has had so much trouble here?

OSORIO: We have watched every game many times. We have analyzed all the goals, we have analyzed all the starting lineups. We have analyzed and compared, and at the end there are a few things that are very clear. A) The United States has imposed their aerial game and their athleticism on those games, and B) It’s a small field where any ball can be put into the box as a way of applying pressure.

The proximity of the fans to the ground and the passion that the American fans let the American players feel can push them and can carry them for the whole 90 minutes. Usually, when Mexico plays in the United States it’s almost like a home game, except here in Columbus, so I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to try and reverse that story.

GOAL: Even though the last Mexico loss here was more than three years ago, it feels like the weight of four straight defeats here hangs over the Mexican team. Is that something you think can effect your team, and how do you, as a coach, ensure that ghost of past losses doesn't haunt this team?

OSORIO: Let’s say, as an example, you’re winning a game and at the last minute they tie the game. Then the next game, it happens again. Between the first and the second time it’s considered a coincidence, but when it happens again it can turn into paranoia. You almost set up for that situation to happen again and again. We are trying to avoid that. We’re trying to think that way, we just take every single game as it is.

We analyze the goals and how the goals were scored, and why we conceded goals in those four games in Columbus. But at the end of the day we take this as a great opportunity to change all that. If people have questions, and people ask about us having the right attitude, the right mind and strong character, this is a great opportunity to show that. That we are, indeed, moving forward and becoming a stronger team because we are playing in an environment that is not familiar for the players.

Healthy Jermaine Jones eager for USA vs. Mexico

This is probably the only stadium in the United States where Mexico is the away team, and it’s a great opportunity to compete against a very strong United States and we will just go head-to-head and conquer that ghost.

I don’t think there is any favorite. If we compete in any other stadium, with no fans, I would probably say we have the advantage, but because we have to consider these other facts, then I think we are even. We need to change that, and this is a great opportunity to do that.

GOAL: You are back in the United States, where you spent quite some time as a coach. Your last job here, as head coach of the Red Bulls, didn't end so well. Was that 2009 season, and you leaving the Red Bulls that year, the low point of your coaching career?

OSORIO: At the end I thought it was the best for everybody that I resign because I like to compete for big things, for titles and for the recognition of being a very good professional at what I do. Just to be there, and just play, without big expectations, I wasn’t very pleased.

The one thing people probably didn’t know was that two months before I resigned they offered to extend my contract and I didn’t accept that because I didn't believe things were going to change there. For me that has great value because, like now, when I say to people I’m not here for the money, I’m here to make history and to become better. I felt the same way then, and I feel that way now.

Mexico training lots, speaking less

Overall, I learned a lot from the experience. We won the Western Conference, and lost the (MLS Cup) final to a (Columbus Crew) team that had more experience and was better prepared.

The adversity made me stronger, because right after that, I took almost three months off and spent one month with Bayern Munich and watched Louis van Gaal for one month. Then I spent five weeks at Barcelona watching (Pep) Guardiola. I used those three months to make myself stronger and better prepared for my next job, which was Once Caldas, where I won my first title.

I always say my time with the Red Bulls was very productive for me.

GOAL: We know how much you enjoyed your time living in the United States. Could we see you back here again, working in MLS?

OSORIO: In football terms, the league itself and the country itself is a great opportunity for any coach. I know a lot of colleagues that have let me know they would like to be in MLS. I think the United States can connect very well academics and sports. Both of my kids were born here. My wife spent about 20 years of her life living in America, so we will always be thankful to the United States, and if my kids decide to go to school or University here, for the better of the family, and the support, the United States will always be a great place to be.

Nowadays we are very pleased, honored and very proud to be with the Mexican national team, but we all know that football can change in two results, for bad or good. We are prepared to hopefully go achieve our goals, and go to the World Cup and see what happens afterwards, but if there’s one certainty in football, it’s that there’s no certainty. And the best thing for me to do, as a human being, is to be prepared for any eventuality. Prepare for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

GOAL: The Mexico job is your first as a national team manager after many years as a club coach. What has been the toughest part about that transition?

OSORIO: The biggest difference is the training. I tend to break down the word manager in a few areas and I think that’s what I am now. I am managing a national team with big-time players, big, strong personalities. When I was working at the club level, I had the great chance and privilege to have time on my hands. Alexander the Great says that’s the best thing we have, time to concentrate on what we want to achieve.

I don’t have the luxury or benefit of training the team as often. Now it’s more about selecting the team. The essence of the job has changed substantially. Nowadays we go and watch a lot of games live, and watch four or five games a week to follow our players in Europe. So I end up watching 10, 15, 20 games in one week, versus having five great sessions.

The main challenge is selection versus training. If I have to say it, the one thing I enjoy the most about the game is training the team on the field, to show whatever the strategy is that we’ve decided for a particular game. To show the tactics and the relationship between strategy and tactics.

It’s a very different job, but I'm prepared for it. In Colombia I had the honor of managing Atletico Nacional, now champions of Copa Libertadores, with nine players that we produced from the beginning. I also managed Sao Paulo, one of the biggest clubs in Brazil. As important as those jobs are, in neither case were we representing an entire country, and a whole population. Now, with Mexico, we represent the people of Mexico, and the pressure that comes with that is significant.

The experience has been special, and it has made me a strong coach and a really strong person, and a well-prepared coach for any future challenges or opportunities I may have after this. This job can prepare you for any job in the world.

GOAL: You have had the Mexico job for a year now. Is there anything you would do differently, or anything you regret about the past year?

OSORIO: It was the Chile game. If you recall, there was one big loss I suffered when I was with the Red Bulls (a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Fire, Osorio's previous employer, in a match Osorio's Red Bulls needed to win to secure a playoff berth in 2008. The Red Bulls wound up backing into the playoffs anyway, and went on a run to the 2008 MLS Cup final).

I never thought it could be worse than that loss. Now I know that it can be.

When we were playing the Chile game, we were not prepared for such a big score. After the loss I watched the first 30 minutes of Brazil against Germany in Brazil and tried to compare those 30 minutes where the score went from 0-1 to 0-5. In eight minutes there were four goals. The story with us was they scored the second goal in the 44th minute. We go into halftime and we made, as always, two subs with the purpose of scoring a goal to get back into the game. It was Hirving Lozano for Raul Jimenez, and we took off a midfielder and played Carlos Pena, a more offensive player, trying to get back into the game.

At 0-3, we still believed that we could score, but the biggest thing I got from that game was that, if that ever happens, the biggest thing is to not give up the next goal. When you’re an optimistic and offensive-minded coach like I am, and you’re down 0-2, I still believe we can score, but when it’s 0-3, we need to start taking drastic measures to defend with our lives. We defend to the point where the most important thing is to not allow the opposition to score the next goals.

After 50 days of not sleeping well, after watching the (Chile) game 10 times, after watching those 30 minutes of that Brazil-Germany game five, six times and comparing it to our game, and after going to Marcelo Bielsa to get his opinion and trying to compare what we did, after those 50 days I can honestly say I’m better prepared, I’m stronger mentally, as a human being and a man, and better prepared as a coach.

GOAL: Your Mexico team is arguably the most talented group Mexico has ever had. What do you think of the team you have?

OSORIO: I think for the first time, we felt very secure and very comfortable in choosing all the players playing abroad. The 13 players playing abroad plus Giovani (Dos Santos) in MLS. We think all our players are playing between a good and a very good level. The standard they are playing, they are playing regular football. Some of them have been very influential lately, we feel they are playing at a very good level.

We are very pleased to say that, amongst many other reasons, one of the biggest reasons why all those players have raised their level is because we have created an environment where all Mexican players playing abroad, and in Mexico, feel that they have a real chance to be in the national team, and we, as a coaching staff, demand that the players that are coming into the national team have to be playing well. it’s not enough to just be playing in Europe. They have to be playing in Europe and at a good level. The same goes for the Mexicans playing at home.

GOAL: What would a win against the United States on Friday mean for the team, and for Mexico?

OSORIO: For the team, a win would strengthen that believe amongst themselves, among the team, that we are indeed moving forward. That they all can come and produce and contribute to a good type of football that we want to play here. The players will go back to their clubs and think we are doing something positive here and we can really keep moving forward to the level that we think we can achieve collectively. It would be a very good step moving forward.

The one thing that surprised me the most is that, obviously in CONCACAF most teams play against Mexico as if they’re playing for their pride and playing against the best. I believe when Mexico plays against the United States it’s a very similar thing. More than football, it’s cultural. The United States is the biggest country in the world, the strongest, they win all the Olympic games and medals, and we want to beat them in a sport that’s supposed to be more Latin, that has more roots historically in our countries. I try to understand that, but at the end of the day it’s a football game. Hopefully, and we will put all our efforts to give that big result that fans expect.

PODCAST | Previewing the USA's clash with Mexico in Columbus