Miguel Herrera’s time as Mexico’s manager may be coming to an end. The excitable, once-beloved boss entered the Gold Cup on a seven-match winless streak and, after Wednesday night’s 4-4 draw Trinidad and Tobago, concluded the group stage with a measly five points. That’s enough to get El Tri out of the group and into the quarterfinals, but it now has Herrera potentially needing to win the tournament or face the axe.
In a vacuum, the draw with Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t mean much. Mexico will stay in the bottom half of the knockout bracket, where it would have been with a victory, and won’t meet the United States until the final. So El Tri suffered no harm, even if it does mean a tougher quarterfinal against Costa Rica, but the match highlighted many of the problems that have plagued Herrera squad since last year’s World Cup.
The team was great through the midfield, dominating possession and creating chances at will, but the team was terrible in both penalty boxes. Forwards Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela missed chances, as did new Galaxy attacker Giovani dos Santos, as well as several others. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa faced a string of shots as defender Francisco ‘Maza’ Rodríguez did his best impression of a traffic con. Defensively, he midfield did little to stop the on-rushing Soca Warriors as Mexico’s 2-0 lead, which could have been four or five goals if not for shoddy finished, was erased in a matter of minutes. Even when Mexico found its scoring boots late and reclaimed the lead, it conceded in the waning moments to slump to a draw.
Things may have been different if Espanyol defender Hector Moreno was healthy, but El Tri has struggled even when its best defender was fit. And Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, injured before the tournament is also missing, but he hasn’t been particularly good for Mexico in ages. There’s little reason to believe a healthy team would have changed much thus far.
But within the tweaks that have had to happen lies a problem: Things have changed under Herrera. He’s brought in different players and even went away from his preferred 5-3-2 formation in favor of a 4-4-2. The results and underwhelming performances have remained unchanged. At this point, it’s tough to see how Herrera is going to change things. Meanwhile, the trigger happy Mexican federation (FMF) is watching the performances and hearing the same critiques from the fans.
Then again, that FMF could be Herrera’s savior. As much as logic and the Mexican media says that Herrera’s heat is hotter than ever and only a trophy can save him, it’s impossible to predict what the FMF will do. Just look back two years.
Mexico spent most of 2013 struggling to qualify for the World Cup. But despite a slew of losses, including at the Estadio Azteca where the team was once invincible, the FMF refused to fire manager José Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre. it kept him through that summer, losses and all. Even when Mexico fell out of CONCACAF’s 2014 World Cup qualification spots while the Mexican media demanded his ouster and fans chanted for him to be sacked, the FMF stood by him. It was an astounding and illogical stand of defiance on the part of the federation.
That September, the FMF finally sacked Chepo and replaced him with Victor Manuel Vucetich, one of the country’s most accomplished managers who it had chased for years. And somehow, the federation fired him after just two matches, long before there was an uproar to give him the boot.
If 2013 taught us one thing, it was that nobody has any idea what the FMF is thinking. The federation is so plagued by politics, financial interests and a lack of direction that it would be difficult to predict what the FMF will do next. We’ve seen it before and we will see it again.
So yes, Herrera is under fire and, barring a Gold Cup trophy, looks set to be fired. The FMF would be entirely justifiable in doing so, and in some parts, it would be the only acceptable course of action.
But this is the FMF, where nothing is obvious and nothing is predictable. Herrera’s future is in question; in theory, at least. But theory is all we have.