Herrera's rescue mission should have started sooner

Posted by Andrea Canales

So all along, beating New Zealand proved to be this easy for Mexico. All that was needed was to take out the non-performing, excuse-making surly coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and put in the competent, charismatic Miguel "Piojo" Herrera and voila, a dynamic and united El Tri squad emerged, one capable of putting up five goals in a match with ease. Brazil 2014 is now only a mariachi dance and a few choruses of "Cielito Lindo" away.

Wednesday's 5-1 victory at Azteca wasn't that simple, of course. The lessons of 2013 can't really be encapsulated by the playoff games against the Kiwis. To defeat a team like New Zealand, a country that doesn't even have a full professional league, shouldn't be cause for such frenzied celebrations such as the ones that took place in Azteca Stadium.

-Dominant Mexico takes control of playoff
-Gomez: El Tri player grades


Of course, fans can't be blamed for being happy their beloved team can go to the World Cup. But there is plenty of blame to go around for putting Mexico in danger in the first place. The country's soccer federation refused to take action early on in qualifying when De la Torre wasn't getting results.

The coaches, and even players themselves, didn't seem to take their CONCACAF rivals seriously, focusing instead on the Confederations Cup (which turned out to be a dismal tournament for El Tri as well) even as Mexico's play deteriorated.

The danger signals were ignored as so many waited for Mexico to improve and play better simply because it was expected. Finally, the Sept. 6 home loss to Honduras was the wake-up call, resulting in De la Torre's sacking.

Yet so little thought was given to really changing anything in the squad that no serious coaching search was done, the reins simply being handed over to the second-in-command during De la Torre's poor run. When things didn't improve under Luis Fernando Tena, the federation again made an easy and convenient choice -- Jose Manuel Vucetich, the recently fired Monterrey coach.

Then came Mexico's darkest hour -- the dying minutes against Costa Rica when the team appeared completely eliminated from the World Cup as Panama neared gaining the playoff spot against New Zealand. Only the stoppage-time goal by the the United States' Graham Zusi put Mexico back into position to do what it did to New Zealand.

Then, and only then, was the federation scared into real action. Vucetich was fired, and Herrera -- Liga MX's top coach, the man who really wanted the job all along -- was given a temporary contract and a mandate to make the changes he wished.

The plucky coach decided not the mess with a winning combination. He stuck with the players he knew best, those from his league team (Club America) and their formation, the 3-5-2.

Seven players from Las Aguilas started Wednesday. A Club America player was involved in every goal. Paul Aguilar scored the first, pouncing on a rebound. Raul Jimenez got the second on a header. Miguel Layun put up a trademark pass to Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta for the third, and the exact same combination repeated for the fourth. Juan Carlos Medina took the corner that led to the final goal by Mexico -- a header by Leon's Rafael Marquez. And finally, it was goalkeeper Moises Munoz who had the game's only slight letdown, when New Zealand's Chris James scored a consolation goal for the Kiwis.

Other than that, it was all fun and games for Mexico. However, the truth remains, even as fans are now booking their tickets to Brazil, that this qualification process doesn't bode well for a good showing by Mexico at World Cup.

It's also possible Herrera may not even be kept on as coach, or, even if he is, he may be forced by the wealthy owners of Club America to stay on to finish their Liguilla run before he can turn his full attention to the national team. It's a shoddy way to treat the person who had the guts to leave the famous European players off the roster, not to mention the nerve to guarantee a victory.

Something has finally gone right for El Tri. While that's great, it's important to stay on that track. A big part of that is to remember how things went wrong in the first place and to avoid that in the future.

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