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Chepo Out, Tena In: How Will Mexico Respond?

The Mexican football federation finally put Jose Manuel de la Torre out of his misery, firing Chepo and replacing him with Luis Fernando Tena, the man who led the El Tri U-23s to Olympic gold.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
September 08, 2013
9:47 AM
JOSE MANUEL DE LA TORRE is no longer the manager of the Mexican national soccer team.

Given Mexico's yearlong malaise, I had anticipated writing those words a lot sooner. But as it became less and less apparent why de la Torre is nicknamed "Chepo" instead of "Gato" for his nine lives, you wondered if the FMF was ever going to make a change at the helm.

His firing didn't come after uninspiring March qualifiers or when June brought more of the same. It didn't come after a Confederations Cup that saw Mexico barely save face with a victory against Japan, which had already been eliminated from the competition. Surely, I thought as I waited for his news conference after his team was knocked out of the Gold Cup in the semifinals, a firing will come now.

Yet Chepo continued on, despite reports to the contrary after the tournament. Now, the Federation has had enough, and it sent him packing in the early hours after his team lost to Honduras, conjuring the image of a disheveled de la Torre stumbling out of the federation office trying to tighten his tie and get his wits about him after being pummeled by the press one last time.

In the end, it wasn't so much those aforementioned results that saw the manager lose his job; it was the failure to defend the Azteca that did Chepo in. Draws against Jamaica and the United States were palatable to the Federation, if not to the fanatical Mexican supporters and media members. But a 2-1 loss to Honduras on Friday night would prove less so. His lineup selections seemed brilliant early on when striker Oribe Peralta, who de la Torre favored over Chicharito, scored in the fifth minute. But selecting Diego Reyes in central defense and Severo Meza at right back may go down as Chepo's undoing—or at least the unit's play in the second half against Honduras will. Jerry Bengston and Carlo Costly both beat the back line for goals in a span of three minutes to lift the Catrachos.

It would be grossly misconstruing things to say Chepo's firing is a surprise. The success he had in the 2011 Gold Cup—when Mexico looked like the strongest it had in recent memory—faded quickly. He'll land softly, probably providing an attractive option for a Liga MX team lured by a manager who won three tournaments prior to taking the national team job.

How will El Tri move forward without the 47-year-old? American fans joked about hoping Chepo stay on for as long as possible sop he could "help" the U.S. cause, but, like most funny things, it's worth a laugh because there was some truth in it.

Chepo's time wasn't without tumult. If a new manger can convince Carlos Vela to once again don the green of El Tri, that alone might be enough to bring a jolt of fresh energy. Bringing back Guillermo Ochoa would be a savvy step as well. Whatever his personnel, the new man will be expected to pull a bit of an escape act, qualifying for the World Cup by whatever means possible. Shockingly for one of CONCACAF's giants, that might be through the playoff with New Zealand if Mexico can hold onto the fourth place slot in the Hex it currently occupies.

Against the United States on Tuesday the role of Mexico manager will fall to Luis Fernando Tena, the man who steered El Tri's Olympic team to the gold medal. His first job will to be to motivate a side that has underperformed all year. If he can do that, Tena could be a permanent candidate for the job. But don't expect an instant promotion if Tena can pull out a victory in Columbus; that's the sort of rash behavior the FMF is hoping to avoid.

There's no doubt Mexico has talent in its squad—Tena's young winners proved that—but finding someone to put that talent together into a cohesive unit has eluded Mexico. With a spot in Brazil slipping away, the federation won't give the new man as many lives as it gave Chepo.

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