The polarizing opinions in support or derision of Juan Carlos Osorio are a bit easier to understand when you consider both the apex and the nadir of his three years at the helm of the Mexican national team.
Hirving Lozano’s strike past Manuel Neuer lead El Tri to one of its biggest victories ever — a 1-0 win over Germany that set the Brazil 2014 champions on the road to shocking disappointment at this year’s tournament in Russia. Mexico had never beaten Germany at the senior level, and of all their 16 victories at the World Cup, none had come against a more decorated rival.
The victory came almost two years to the day of Mexico’s disastrous elimination at the Copa America Centenario, where Osorio’s team endured a 7-0 hammering at the hands of Chile. Many have already mythologized what occurred next: the FMF bosses did not accept Osorio’s resignation, and the Colombian coach retreated into solitude. After a while, he reached out to the legendary Marcelo Bielsa, who stoked Osorio’s competitive fire toward redemption.
There is still a chance those two anecdotes bookend the Osorio era, or merely become two of the initial chapters. Amid the Mexican Federation’s overt desire to keep him for another World Cup cycle, the mercurial coach will decide whether to cement his legacy amid an unending stream of criticism from fans and the media, or parlay his tenure into another job – with the United States, Colombia, or a European club.
In the meantime, a dispassionate review of Osorio’s time as Mexico’s manager reveals enough data to assess that while El Tri’s ultimate result at the World Cup was the same as it has been since 1994, there is plenty of potential for what comes next.
Here are Juan Carlos Osorio’s biggest successes and mistakes through his first three years in Mexico:
A return to form in CONCACAF
Though critics will point to the 2017 Gold Cup (which Osorio did not coach and sent a B team to thanks to Mexico’s participation in the Confederations Cup) as a stumble, the reality is Mexico regained its status as top dog within CONCACAF through the Osorio years.
Mexico defeated the United States in Columbus for the first time ever in World Cup qualification, and cruised to the top of the Hexagonal en route the World Cup. If that doesn’t register as a big deal, consider this: El Tri had failed to finish first in qualifying since the 1998 cycle. Osorio’s team essentially negated the headaches associated with making the World Cup for the first time in over a decade.
Faltering in elimination games
This is the final (as of now) line on Osorio coaching Mexico in win-or-go-home games: no wins, three losses, one goal scored, and 13 goals against. Not great.
The above stat becomes a little less shocking when you realize the opponents were Chile, Germany and Brazil respectively, but it’s still disheartening to think that of all of Osorio’s talk of match preparation and a focus on mental training, his Mexico teams couldn’t rise up when needed.
If we add in the pivotal third group stage match of the World Cup vs. Sweden (in which El Tri was bailed out by South Korea’s win over Germany) and the third-place consolation match at the 2017 Confederations Cup against Portugal, Osorio’s record looks even worse: no wins, five losses, two goals scored, and 18 goals against. Yikes.
Trusting the process
Few Mexican national team coaches have connected with players as much as Osorio has with his group. Despite the constant barrage of criticism levied his way in the past three years, his players have been steadfast in supporting him.
Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Rafa Marquez have been effusive in their praise of Osorio, a message completely absorbed by the folks upstairs. The FMF’s patient, consistent pursuit of their coach for a second term is, in large part, based on what the players have to say about the man. Still skeptical? Compare the emotive statements made by players as opposed to the canned responses made in regards to people like Miguel Herrera in the past.
You must be this tall to play
Osorio’s insistence on establishing a physical requirement to play for El Tri is understandable given he wants to be able to compete with teams that have bullied Mexico in the past. However, his desire to impose his will on the opposition at all times is somewhat shadowed by the fact he has shunned talented players based fully on their stature.
The need for a true holding midfielder has plagued Osorio and Mexico for years. The solution was apparently in front of him the whole time. Juan Jose “Gallito” Vazquez has been playing at a superb level for several seasons in Liga MX. Osorio never called him up, because he is five-foot-five.
In fact, Osorio was willing to let 39-year-old Rafa Marquez have a crack at the position before anyone who didn’t fit the physical mold. The results (especially against Sweden and Brazil at the World Cup) were telling.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
Whether this is groundbreaking or an annoying foible is in the eye of the beholder. Really, the thought of not repeating a starting XI in world football should not be so controversial. Players convene once every few months, and a squad can change dramatically in that span due to injuries, form and other factors.
However, critics held on to Osorio’s unwillingness to establish a base as a severe issue. The younger, analytics-driven crowd applauded him massively, stating he was merely stacking the deck in his favor by keeping players fresh and establishing favorable matchups against different teams.
In the end, Osorio did concede to repeating a lineup — at the third match of the World Cup, earning him a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Sweden.
The FMF is deftly absorbing criticism by waiting on their manager to make a final decision, instead of knee-jerking into the next World Cup cycle. The benefits of a long process for a national team are well documented, though the jury is still out on whether Osorio is an elite coach or not.
After years of internal strife and a lack of continuity, however, trying the opposite strategy seems like a welcome change of pace. Should Osorio stay on as Mexican boss, the above points are lessons to consider as he preps for the next World Cup cycle.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN’s One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.
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