Chepo firing, El Tri chaos adds spice to Tuesday's U.S. clash

Posted by Doug McIntyre

In many respects, we saw this coming. The (now former) Mexico coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre had somehow survived a string of poor results, dating back to El Tri's Hexagonal-opening scoreless tie in February at once-formidable Azteca Stadium.

But after starting the Hex with three scoreless draws at the imposing, 105,000-seat venue and bowing out of the FIFA Confederations Cup in June and the Gold Cup the next month, the unthinkable happened Friday night and there was no other option but to fire the coach who, not long ago, had the U.S. national team's biggest rival looking like a potential dark horse to win it all at Brazil 2014.

Mexico lost its match at Azteca against Honduras 2-1 on Friday night after leading at halftime, just its second home loss in World Cup qualifying history. Now, unless wounded Mexico -- which named the 2012 Olympic gold-medal-winning Luis Fernando Tena as de la Torre's replacement in the wee hours of Saturday morning -- manages to beat the Americans in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, its very participation in the planet's biggest sporting event next summer will be thrown into even more serious doubt.

For the U.S., though, the chance to further dash its nemesis' hopes would only be a bonus. After all, the Yanks are facing a must-win match of their own Tuesday after losing 3-1 in Costa Rica on Friday night.

"It's important to have a strong response; it's important to win your home games in qualifying," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said after the loss at Estadio Nacional in San Jose. "It's always a must."

To be sure, a loss would not doom the Yanks the way it might the Mexicans. In fact, El Tri was lucky the damage wasn't worse after being upset by Los Catrachos; Panama's surprising failure to beat bottom-of-the-standings Jamaica at home in CONCACAF's other game spared Mexico from slipping to fifth place in the six-team table, one spot out of the playoff berth that offers a World Cup lifeline with a two-leg, home-and-home series against Oceania champ New Zealand. Because of that, Mexico sits in the playoff spot with eight points, five behind the second-place U.S. squad.

In a funny way, Mexico's loss -- and Chepo's firing -- could make things more difficult for the Yanks on Tuesday. Although estranged stars Carlos Vela and Memo Ochoa are unlikely to be recalled for the match at Crew Stadium (where Mexico has failed to score in three consecutive qualifying loses dating to 2001), teams often enjoy a boost in form after an incumbent is let go.

With a trip to Costa Rica -- now the undisputed toughest away game in this region of the globe -- still ahead, Mexico will be playing for its World Cup life this week. As much as the U.S. would surely relish the chance to stick the dagger in a match that could punch its ticket to Brazil if Honduras doesn't lose at home to Panama, a wounded animal is a dangerous one.

Call it addition by subtraction, but after Mexico finally (and mercifully) let embattled de la Torre go, El Tri might now become an even tougher out.

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