MEXICO CITY -- A stormy Friday night in the south end of Mexico City came to a conclusion with a news bulletin released at 2:46 a.m. Saturday in which the Mexican Football Federation reported that Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre was no longer the coach of the national team.
"You need to go and talk to the media," federation president Justino Compean ordered national teams director Hector Gonzalez Inarritu in the hallway outside the Azteca Stadium locker rooms. "I need to make some phone calls. We can't let things go on like this."
The decision had been made. All that was needed now was the approval of Compean’s boss.
In reality, the news could hardly be considered surprising. A miserable 2013, which included World Cup qualifying, Confederations Cup, Gold Cup and play on the field that has the Mexican team on the brink of elimination for World Cup 2014, has led to a new phenomenon in the coaching of Mexican national teams. "Chepo" is leaving because Mexico doesn't know what it's doing on the soccer field. Many of the players are in the middle of a serious slump, and the team is not showing the mentality or the motivation necessary to prepare for high-profile matches. To put the matter plainly: The Mexican national team is a disaster.
A meeting in Compean's house two months ago led to the support of de la Torre as national team coach. A win over Ivory Coast in a mid-August friendly led to a false sense of security. But then, Mexico lost 2-1 to Honduras at home on Friday.
Now, Luis Fernando Tena is the short-term solution. No one knows whether he is the right solution, but he was immediately available. He has been around for a while and is the mastermind of the greatest sports triumph of Mexican national teams: the winning of the Olympic gold medal in 2012. But in less than 72 hours, Tena will have to lead a team facing the USA in a showdown in Columbus, Ohio, where Mexico has never won. The situation in the CONCACAF standings, with only three matches remaining and nine points in contention, shows Mexico behind Costa Rica, the USA and Honduras, ensconced in fourth place. As of now, this would require them to play a home-and-home series with the Oceania champion (i.e., New Zealand).
The loss to Honduras on Friday night was unquestionably one of the most humiliating in the history of Mexican soccer and has left the team in a very deep hole. No one can now confidently assert that the Mexican team is displaying the play, attitude and strength needed to punch its ticket for the World Cup. The impossible now looms as a possibility, and the idea that continuity was the best medicine has ended up aggravating the patient's condition. The national soccer team is in the midst of the worst crisis in its recent history.
The mediocrity of Mexico's CONCACAF division has resulted in it still having a chance to qualify. But with the level of play that it has shown thus far (only four goals in seven matches and three of the 12 possible points in contention at Azteca Stadium), nothing is assured at this point. The match scheduled for Tuesday is likely to be tough. Panama's visit in October will also not be easy, and the final match will be in San Jose against a Costa Rican team that may by that time have already clinched a berth but that will surely be looking to take advantage of a vulnerable Mexican squad.
The "game" played by the powerful interests that influence Mexican soccer will soon begin. The loss -- in both economic and sporting terms -- that would result from Mexico’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is difficult to calculate.