News analysis: Mexican Tata Martino advances as the hot seat heats up
Coaching the Mexico national soccer team is one of the most ruthless jobs in sports, one that requires you to be perfect from the start and then improve as you go.
It’s more demanding two months before a World Cup, where Tata Martino is currently. So even Saturday’s 1-0 win over Peru in front of 62,729 mostly green-clad fans at the Rose Bowl is unlikely to appease its critics.
The only goal of the game came from Hirving Lozano in the 85th minute, and it bounced off the goalkeeper. But Martino will take his bright spots wherever he can find them.
“I feel happy, I feel excited, looking forward to the World Cup challenge,” the coach said after entering the post-match press conference with a broad smile. “I have a positive feeling with the team in every way.”
The harness on which he is sitting, meanwhile, is only getting warmer. And he’s not the first Mexican to hear fans calling for him to be fired.
“Maybe we have very short memories,” said the midfielder Andres Guardado, who recalls demands for the dismissal of Juan Carlos Osorio four years ago. “They shouted at Osorio to leave. They criticized him for anything.
Before that it was Chepo de la Torre and Javier Aguirre. The only recent coach to escape the wrath of Mexican fans and members of the media was Miguel Herrera, whose playful enthusiasm and demonstrative demeanor won over his detractors. But even he was kicked out after a Mexican journalist accused the coach of assaulting him in the Philadelphia airport security line.
“At this level, as a coach, you are three defeats away from the crisis,” Osorio said heading into his only World Cup as Mexico coach in 2018. “If I was in another country, maybe they would allow me three losses.. In Mexico, no. Probably one and that’s it.
Martino started well, going unbeaten in the first 11 games and winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But he hasn’t won a trophy since, losing to the United States in the Gold Cup and Nations League final last year.
Mexico tied Canada with a tournament-high eight wins and 28 points in World Cup qualifying but have struggled to score lately, being shut out three times in their last six games. The victory against Peru was only the second of this period and Mexico have not beaten a World Cup team for over a year.
Martino, who took Paraguay to the World Cup quarter-finals and Atlanta United to the MLS Cup, has toughened up and his tone changed in response to criticism. He now pushes back against members of the media he deems unfair and in July when Mexico’s soccer federation forced sporting director Gerardo Torrado to resign after his U-20 team failed to qualify for the Olympics of 2024, Martino reportedly tendered his own resignation in protest. .
This was not accepted and Martino was invited to coach during the World Cup, where he will celebrate his 60th birthday two days before Mexico’s tournament opener with Poland.
The turmoil came at the worst time for Martino who, rather than face fans who paid to attend an open practice at the Rose Bowl on Friday, stayed away.
“I have nothing to say to them,” Martino said when asked if he had a message for the fans. “We speak with the game on the pitch. It is not me at a press conference or an actor in a press conference who will be able to feed the hopes, the dreams of the people. This must be shown with the team’s play.
That didn’t happen on Saturday, when injuries sidelined five players Martino thought would fuel his attack in Qatar. The absence of a proper No.9 hurt Mexico, who again lacked creativity in the final third on Saturday.
Peru’s World Cup hopes ended with a penalty loss to Australia in an intercontinental playoff tie in June, but their well-organized defense frustrated El Tri in an erratic first half. Things didn’t improve much after the intermission; although the Mexican press forced Peru into many turnovers, Martino’s team could not take advantage of them.
Lozano finally broke the spell, getting his left boot on a César Montes header after a corner and hitting a gloved right hand shot from Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and into the roof of the net just outside the left post .
It was the only shot on target for either team. Meanwhile, 350 miles to the north, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Mexico’s all-time leading scorer but a player Martino stubbornly left out of his World Cup squad, netted his 16th and 17th goals in the season in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win over San Jose.
Martino, who used 15 players on Saturday, will get another glimpse of his side without Chicharito when they face Colombia on Tuesday in Santa Clara. After that, he will have less than two months to narrow down his roster to the 26 players he will bring to Qatar.
“I haven’t spoken to any of them, including their guaranteed presence at the World Cup,” he said. “There are a lot of certainties and fewer questions. The logic is to have more certainties than doubts.
He could say the same about his job security.