Will Vuce Name the Best Players for Mexico?

Víctor Manuel Vucetich, one of the most decorated managers in Mexico, will look to save El Tri from itself
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, September 20, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

The firing of José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre was largely symbolic but still sorely overdue.

His temporary replacement was assistant Luis Fernando Tena. While Chepo himself was gone, his stubborn tactics were still employed by his assistant coaches who instructed the players he called in. There was never any chance for real change during Tena's interim stewardship of the national team, but that chance improved greatly just after the eerie but no less disappointing 2-0 loss to the United States in Columbus, Ohio.

Introducing Vucetich

Víctor Manuel Vucetich was officially introduced in the days after that loss on Thursday, Sept. 12. He inherits a team sitting in 5th place hoping to qualify for a play-off against New Zealand, let alone making the final cut for Brazil 2014.

During his 1st meeting with the press, Vucetich highlighted a clearing out of Chepo's personnel and also the infectious low morale that was ever-present during his tenure. Vucetich brings calmness and the mental attitude that just might turn a fractious locker room atmosphere into a team that works for each other. His coaching record isn't bad either.

As manager at Liga MX club Monterrey over the last 4 years, Vucetich held a record of 113-67-62 (W-T-L) and melded well veterans' experience and young players' exuberance.

With the Rayados, Vucetich lifted 2 league titles and a monumental 3 consecutive CONCACAF Champions League trophies, which show an ability to succeed in the region. He is also a coach who understands and thrives in high-pressure games as he has won 13 of the 14 finals his teams have entered during his coaching career.

Fans have long held out hope that the only thing standing between Carlos Vela and the Tricolor uniform was Chepo de la Torre. Now that the FMF has named a permanent replacement, supporters and observers are waiting anxiously for that announcement to be made public. To exacerbate the nerves even further, Vela expressed interest in playing for Mexico again after his club team Real Sociedad lost in Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.

While Vucetich has not yet publicly called in the star of the Txuri-urdin, what he has done is still progressive and noteworthy. In order to gauge not only players' ability but also compatibility under his preferred tactical systems, the former Monterrey manager will have short national team mini-camps leading up to the final two matches of the Hexagonal. The 1st mini-camp, featuring only domestic-based players because clubs don't have to release players outside of FIFA calendar dates, was released on Thursday with a few surprises.

Mini-camp roster

The initial training camp will run from this Sunday through Wednesday of next week. Some of the players called in have been regulars with Chepo's teams, some of them were key players for the B team that Mexico sent to the Gold Cup this past summer while some of the players were on the outside of the national team picture looking in.

The 2 biggest shocks both dealt with central defenders. Club America's Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez, who has started 5 of 8 matches in the Hexagonal despite a number of high profile plunders, was left out of the camp. Seeming to be the straight replacement for the former Stuttgart defender is former national team captain Rafael Márquez. Márquez is an interesting case and one could write several thousand words about whether or not he should be on the team.

U.S. fans will remember Márquez for cleating Tim Howard in Columbus in 2009 or for headbutting Cobi Jones (after leading with his studs up towards Jones's back) in the 2002 World Cup in Korea Republic. MLS followers will look back with laughs at his torrid tenure with the New York Red Bulls, where he only played intermittently and exerted effort in just a risible fraction of his appearances despite raking in an absurd designated player salary. After the Red Bulls divorced Rafa in December 2012, he made his way to newly promoted Liga MX side Club León where he has re-established his club career.

That said, Márquez is not being considered for his playing abilities. The last time he started for the national team was in a Feb. 2012 friendly against Colombia in Miami. Though no one came out of that match looking particularly good for Mexico, Márquez was consistently out of position and his poor play led to 2 of the goals against. He was downright dreadful in that appearance. Instead if Márquez makes the cut for the final squad next month, he will be brought on as a “locker room guy.”

Márquez is a player who left Mexico at the age of 20 to pursue his career in Europe. After a few seasons with AS Monaco, he landed a spot at FC Barcelona (maybe you've heard of them). Márquez started 220 matches for Barcelona, winning 12 trophies before leaving the club in 2010. He is a veteran of 3 World Cups and 2 UEFA Champions League finals. Simply put, Rafa Márquez is a player who's been there; he's played in tough matches. He knows what to say to his teammates to prepare them mentally for the 2 upcoming must-win games in World Cup Qualifying.

Other notable inclusions to the 25-man training camp are naturalized citizen Lucas Lobos from Tigres and America's versatile defender/wing-back/wide midfielder Miguel Layún. Lobos joins fellow Argentine-born naturalized Mexicans Christian “Chaco” Giménez and club teammate Damián Álvarez. Layún is somebody to watch in this camp as I think he just might earn himself a call-up next month.

Layún is a player who has been mocked by rival fans as well as his own fans throughout his career. Instead of getting discouraged the wide player comes back even more determined every time.

And he was crucial during America's Clausura 2013 victory over Cruz Azul as his goal in the penalty shootout sealed victory for Las Aguilas. He also assisted 2 of Mexico's 7 goals in this summer's Gold Cup, including a well-placed low cross to club teammate Raúl Jiménez in the match against Trinidad.

Layún should be a 2nd half option for Mexico against Panama and Costa Rica as a player who plays with a gritty work ethic and can pump reliable service from either flank into the box when every other player on El Tri attempts to cut into a crowded central attacking area for a low percentage shot.

Conclusions

While it may be premature to judge Vucetich as Mexico's national team head coach, he is already shifting the mentality surrounding the team. His cool, calm demeanor is sincere unlike Chepo's almost delusional insistence that he was in control of the team's fate. Vucetich's experience in coaching big games will come in handy in October but most of the real work will be done in the coming weeks.

El Tri's new coach will craft a team that functions well as a unit instead of just casting a group of individuals onto the field and hoping they manage a result.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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