Miguel Herrera

Mexico Coach Miguel Herrera gestures before a match against Nigeria in March. Herrera has big expectations for Mexico in the World Cup. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images / March 5, 2014)

Miguel Herrera will be either a hero or a goat this summer. There is no other possible outcome for the coach of Mexico's national soccer team in a World Cup year.

If the team does well in Brazil, he won't have to pay for a meal for the rest of his life. If it flops, he won't be able to find a restaurant that will serve him.

But whichever way he goes, he's not going to go quietly.

"We're going to reach the final," Herrera boasted to reporters recently. "When you arrive at the top you have to keep looking up with the idea of changing everything and winning a World Cup.

"It's very difficult. But if you don't go with that dream, then why are you going?"

Mexico almost didn't go. After a momentous collapse in qualifying, it had to beat New Zealand in a two-leg playoff in November to grab the penultimate spot in the 32-team World Cup field.

Not coincidentally, those were Herrera's first two games as coach of the national team. And the team hasn't lost since.

So maybe he's justified in dreaming big.

"The pressure is strong to do something different," the former Club America coach says. "We're going with the idea that we will be successful. We know that it hasn't been a good year. But it's a new year."

That enthusiasm is already catching on, with both fans and players insisting the black cloud that shadowed the team last fall has been lifted.

"There's a lot of positive thinking again," says goalkeeper Moises Munoz, who rejoined the national team last summer after a five-year absence and became a starter under Herrera. "The way that the group is forming right now, the way the national team is integrating itself, it's quite good.

"The expectations are very high and we have to live up to them."

Sergio Tristan, an Austin, Texas, attorney and founder of Pancho Villa's Army, the largest Mexican soccer supporters group in the U.S., credits Herrera alone for that.

"It's all mentality," he says. "I don't think you've had any coach before that would tell the guys, 'What is wrong with you? Go out there and ... put some heart into the game.'

"That's what's different. The manager's perspective on how to motivate his players is greatly improved. Herrera wants to win. And he knows how to translate that to his players."

It isn't surprising that Herrera — the 11th coach Mexico has had in the last 14 years and the fourth since September — is seen as a hero. But given the constant coaching turnover, there was really no way he could lose.

Beat New Zealand, then ranked 91st in the world, and you're the guy who got Mexico to the World Cup. Lose and, well, it's not your fault. No one else won with this team either.

But Herrera wasn't exactly gambling with the house's money. According to sports marketing expert Rogelia Roa, if Mexico had failed to reach the World Cup for just the second time since 1974 it would have cost the country's soccer federation — Herrera's new bosses — as much as $600 million in lost broadcast, merchandise and sponsorship revenue. TV giant Televisa, which also owns Club America, was on the hook for $100 million by itself.

Yet despite his success, Herrera is something of an unexpected savior. A former defender who played 14 years in the Mexican league and 14 games for the national team, he spent most of his life far from Mexico City and has never been part of the inner circle of the soccer federation, an organization known for its dysfunction and cronyism.

He had enjoyed only moderate success as a coach with four Mexican clubs before being offered a six-month contract as the interim manager of Club America in the winter of 2011. That position became permanent six months later when he led the team to the playoff semifinals.