Jose Manuel de la Torre is fighting for his job. Friday's 0-0 draw against Panama was not a poor or unexpected result, but the manner in which his team played left a lot to be desired. The same can be said for his team's 1-0 win over Jamaica, in which Aldo de Nigris' goal was the team's only excellent chance of the evening. Four points are what Mexico expected from their last two matches, but the way in which they were gained has left fans wondering if the results are duplicable.
Mexico used two different lineups in those two matches and produced similar results on the pitch, even if the results on the scoreboard were slightly different. The only difference between the two games was the experience and tenacity of the Panamanian defense; Jamaica probably could have kept a clean sheet if they had a right back that was older than 18 or a center back with Felipe Baloy's quality. El Tri can't claim that they had more than a couple of clear cut chances in each match and were a bit lucky to score at all against Jamaica.
‘Chepo' tried 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations. He tried de Nigris next to Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos underneath him. He tried both Pablo Barrera and Javier Aquino on the right wing. Nothing has worked for Mexico this June, just like nothing worked against the United States in their 0-0 draw back in March.
Mexico have just one goal from their last three competitive fixtures. They're struggling because of their lack of inventiveness and incisiveness in front of the net, not because of bad luck or spectacular opposition. El Tri need to get better, fast, and the FMF will be justified in considering other managers for the Mexican national team job if de la Torre fails to capture all three points against Costa Rica.
During his press conference on Monday, Chepo seemed a tad bit on edge. There's certainly nothing crazy here - it's all still very professional - but his quotes indicate that he's a tad bit frustrated, both with his team and the media.
Chepo: "La presión en la Selección siempre existe. El equipo no está cansado, cada vez está en mejor ritmo".— Televisa Deportes (@TD_Deportes) June 10, 2013
Chepo: "Críticas siempre habrá, ganes, pierdas o empates. El objetivo es claro, es la clasificación y es lo que buscamos".— Televisa Deportes (@TD_Deportes) June 10, 2013
Chepo: "Prefiero ganar a decir que jugué maravillosamente y perdí, aquí lo que importan son los resultados".— Televisa Deportes (@TD_Deportes) June 10, 2013
Chepo: (12 partidos sin perder) "sólo son estadísticas, eso no me dice nada para el partido de mañana".— Televisa Deportes (@TD_Deportes) June 10, 2013
The question about El Tri's undefeated run was an interesting one. While Mexico has gone 12 games without defeat, their recent poor play shouldn't be accepted by fans and de la Torre's superiors. It's too late in the World Cup qualifying cycle for Chepo to be randomly tinkering with his squad and formation, but he's halfway through the Hex and has absolutely no clue what his best XI is. Left wing, where Andres Guardado starts, is the only position where El Tri's best option is set in stone. ‘Chicharito', despite his recent drop-off in form, appears to be an automatic starter regardless of formation as well. In nine other positions? It's anyone's guess who Mexico's best option is and who's going to start from game to game.
This is the biggest problem with de la Torre's reign as Mexico manager. Even for a side in the international game, where players do not spend a great deal of time together and look less familiar with each other than players at club sides do, Mexico look disjointed.
Chicharito, Guardado, dos Santos and Barrera were the starting front four for Mexico's Gold Cup-winning side, but now often look like they've never played together. Barrera's injury early this season didn't help, but their lack of chemistry is probably more due to Chepo constantly moving dos Santos in and out of the team, often in different positions. The midfield has been a revolving door as well, something that certainly doesn't help the attacking players, while Chepo has switched between 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations on a regular basis with no discernable reason for doing so.
It's tough to figure out what all of the changes are for. Chepo isn't changing his team to accommodate young, up-and-coming stars like Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera or Raul Jimenez. If he made a decision part of the way through qualifying that these players were the future and that the rest of the team needed to be sacrificed to build around them, that would be one thing, but his tinkering suggests something else entirely. He's doing whatever he can to accommodate ‘Maza' Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido while reinstating Gerardo Torrado in a desperate attempt to turn Mexico's fortunes around, but won't stick by his country's future stars, nor does he appear to have a plan to integrate them over time. Herrera, the star of the 2012 Olympics and Toulon tournament, can't get a look. Reyes has only played when other defenders weren't fit. Jimenez only plays in friendlies carried by Televisa networks.
This is consistent with what Chepo did immediately before and after the Gold Cup, finding ways to shoehorn old favorites of his and long-time internationals like Sinha and Rafael Marquez into the team. He found a good and fairly young team - with a reasonable and intelligent mix of veterans - for the Gold Cup and stuck with them, which makes his current tinkering even more frustrating. They played fantastic football and looked absolutely untouchable in CONCACAF, instilling hope that Chepo had found his best team and left behind his less than endearing tendencies.
He was back to tinkering and starting washed up players quickly afterwards.
Through some combination of Chepo reverting to his old ways and the rest of the continent figuring out how to play against them, Mexico started to look like just another average team again. They should still qualify for the World Cup, but just like in 2009, they're not doing it in comfortable fashion like they should.
Simply qualifying for the World Cup isn't an accomplishment for Mexico. That should be automatic, and sitting in the top three in CONCACAF shouldn't be good enough to save a manager's job. If the team looks like they're stagnating and the manager appears to have no idea how to set up his team going forward, the FMF can and should make a drastic move. El Tri have been knocked out in the Round of 16 in five consecutive World Cups and should be striving for more. They have too much talent to miss the World Cup even if de la Torre is truly incompetent, but at this rate, it will take a miracle draw for them to get out of the group and duplicate their previous five disappointments.
Chepo's job is on the line on Tuesday and it will remain on the line throughout the summer. Mexico don't just have to beat Costa Rica and show up in the Confederations Cup for Chepo to remain employed; they have to look like they're heading somewhere beyond where they are right now while doing it. Qualification is not enough.
Mexico are headed for Brazil, but at this rate, they're also heading for an early exit at the World Cup. What they've shown so far isn't good enough, even for this relatively early stage in the cycle. It's time for de la Torre to prove that he's capable of delivering a lot more.