It couldn't get worse.
That, unfortunately, seemed to be the logic at many points when taking stock of Mexico’s fortunes in World Cup qualifying. Apparently El Tri wasn't fully awake or energized against Jamaica, which resulted in a draw; then the USA was a tough defensive team that would not open up and play the game in the open field; then Costa Rica caught the Mexican players looking ahead to the Confederations Cup. The excuses for missed points kept piling up for Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and his players.
- Marshall: El Tri Grades
- Report: Mexico 1-2 Honduras
Somehow, denying Mexico’s poor play became a weird sort of test. No matter how much evidence showed that Mexico was playing badly, it was disloyal to say so, with fans getting chastised for booing the coach.
It became politically difficult for other coaches in Liga MX to campaign for de la Torre’s job, though for many it would be a dream job. The federation waffled a bit on retaining the coach, but seemed to settle on the assumption that things would improve. The danger signals -- the lack of scoring, the Gold Cup elimination, the discord within the squad and the unprecedented issue of player holdouts -- were all ignored.
After all, Mexico had traditionally dominated Honduras in Estadio Azteca. Traditions do not play on the field, though. Neither do fans, no matter how many fit in the fabled venue.
That fact seemed lost when local pundits and even members of the team asked fans to support the squad, as if somehow that was the missing ingredient when, if present, would create a Mexico victory.
When Mexico took the early lead versus Honduras in the sixth minute, the lazy congratulations of rightness for thinking that matters had to improve even without making improvements seemed to be justified. El Tri looked lively and dominant. The pass from Giovani dos Santos to Oribe Peralta was sublime, and the finish was cool and controlled.
But as the minutes ticked by, the killer instinct was clearly missing for Mexico. The sense of urgency that was evident at the start of the match ebbed away. In the second half, the lackadaisical play emerged. Carlos Costly was allowed too much time on the ball in the box, and he loosed a hard shot that forced Jesus Corona into a diving save, knocking the rebound right to a curiously-unmarked Jerry Bengston.
Two minutes later, Costly did all the work on his own on a sizzling counterattack, shrugging off the marking of Diego Reyes as if the youngster was of no consequence, and burying his shot into the side netting of the goal.
Even when down a goal, with their qualification chances slipping away, Mexico continued to be embarrassingly passive. It was Honduras who had the game’s best missed chance in the 85th minute, when Bengston missed an absolute sitter that would have put Honduras even further ahead.
In the end, the cushion wasn’t needed. Mexico failed to mount any sort of comeback. The Honduran Aztecazo was complete.
That is, unless one counts the retorts of de la Torre in the press conference after the match, where he refused to consider resigning, avowing that the only failure is to stop trying. But when what one has tried various things that don’t seem work, the solution might indeed be to step aside and let someone who knows better try to fix things.
Yet de la Torre might not be as much to blame as those who have given him the authority he now wields.
Things couldn’t get worse, many Mexico fans believed. Now, with Mexico in fourth place in the Hex, a mere point above Panama, they are much worse. Even more daunting is the idea that there is another lower level easily possible. If the U.S. recovers from its own loss to Costa Rica and defeats Mexico, even the playoff chance for El Tri to get to Brazil could be gone or at least, at great risk.
Now is the time for reality, not panic, to set in. Mexico is in dire straits. To pull a result out of Columbus, where El Tri has traditionally struggled, will be extremely difficult. At least Mexico has learned the hard lesson from Honduras that tradition is ultimately meaningless, and perhaps that will inspire them to mount a shocker of their own, perhaps under the leadership of another coach.
The worst of all scenarios would be for Mexico to miss out on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But that’s what happens when situations are ignored when there are merely bad. They get worse. Then the worst is just around the corner.
It couldn't get worse.