Mexico fires national soccer team coach, but is it too late?

The biggest question left in the wake of Mexico's decision to sack national team coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre early Saturday isn't why, but rather why now.

Hours after an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Honduras in a World Cup qualifier at once-impenetrable Azteca Stadium, the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) release a statement announcing that De la Torre was out and Luis Fernando Tena was in.

The choice of Tena is a good one. He led Mexico's U-23 team to its first-ever soccer gold medal in last summer's London Olympics and appears to have the support of many key members of the Mexican team, something people close to El Tri say De la Torre had lost.

But it's a choice FMF President Justino Compean could have made after Mexico won just one of its first six World Cup qualifiers this year. Or after his team was eliminated in two matches at the Confederations Cups. Or after De la Torre was booed off the field -- twice -- during July's CONCACAF Gold Cup, where Mexico failed to reach the final for the first time since 2005.

Instead the presidents of Mexico's first division teams, who run the FMF, waited until Mexico dropped to fourth in the qualifying table with three matches left, leaving El Tri dangerously close to missing a World Cup for which it was eligible for the first time in more than three decades.

A loss to the U.S. -- where Mexico has never won -- when the two meet next week combined with a Panama victory in Honduras would drop Mexico to fifth in the standings, two points behind Panama with two matches to play. Only the top three teams in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament are guaranteed berths in next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Relieving De la Torre over the summer -- after the disastrous Confederations Cup or even more disastrous Gold Cup -- would have given Tena time to organize his team and his staff. Compean and the FMF almost made that call in July, but after a heated and deeply divided debate, they voted to give him another chance.

That chance expired Friday when De la Torre was booed off the field again after Mexico's first home loss in a World Cup qualifier in 12 years.

But by waiting until the 72 hours between Friday's qualifier and Tuesday's match with the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio, the FMF has left the 55-year-old Tena -- who has been called an interim coach -- with little time to install his own approach and philosophies.

Plus the dithering left De la Torre twisting in the wind. Shortly before Saturday's 1 a.m. press release announcing his firing, the defiant Chepo met with Mexican media and told them it "would be a huge failure to just give up. I can't just turn my back on all that we have worked for and that, that I'm convinced we can still accomplish. All we can do is get back up and keep working hard, just like with anything else in life.

"If the players have tired of me and my speeches, it would show."

De la Torre lasted 31 months as coach of the national team, a lifetime in Mexican soccer. Only one coach in the last four decades has completed a four-year World Cup cycle.


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