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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Tom Marshall

Juan Carlos Osorio feels the heat but Mexico's issues run far deeper

Herculez Gomez explains why criticism of Juan Carlos Osorio is harsh after Mexico's elimination in the Gold Cup semifinals.

PASADENA, Calif. -- When Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio left the Rose Bowl Sunday evening roughly 45 minutes after the final whistle had sounded on El Tri's 1-0 defeat to Jamaica, his exit was marked by heavy security.

Fans and journalists waited for him outside the elevator that takes the manager down to ground level (he'd been compelled to watch the match from a private box due to his FIFA ban). Cries of "Osorio out!" came from the group of assembled fans as Mexico's coach was escorted from the stadium alongside Mexican federation (FMF) president Decio de Maria. The pair were shielded by police and stadium security as fans pursued the cohort.

These were ugly scenes, bordering on hateful. They were unbefitting of an event like this, and the experience was surely unsettling for Osorio.

It was not how the 56-year-old likely envisaged the end of his summer's work with the national team.

Everyone with a smidgen of knowledge about Mexican football pays lip service to the difficulty and the pressure associated with being El Tri's manager. But few live it.

"Impossible to explain" was Osorio's attempt at describing the intensity and demands of the job earlier this tournament. He has yet to speak publicly after Sunday night's defeat, but the pressure has been ratcheted up another notch following the unexpected semifinal exit. Fans online and pundits in the media have been calling for Osorio to vacate his current post.

"They have their right to opine but I am only thankful towards [Osorio]," said Mexico midfielder Erick Gutierrez after the match. "I know he only wants the best for us, he's very passionate."

If you strip away the mob's angry reaction and analyze Sunday's loss in the cold light of day, there are reasonable concerns about what we saw from Mexico in Pasadena, and at the Gold Cup in general. El Tri should be better than this, even with a weakened squad. Some blame must fall on Osorio, who will be searching for answers just as he did following last summer's 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario.

His methods are unconventional and difficult to comprehend at times. While the rotations in players and formations can be justified, Osorio's philosophy is an outlier in international football, where managers don't get much time to work with players and refine tactical systems.

Switching from the usual 4-3-3 to more of a 3-4-3 diamond (or 3-3-1-3) was designed to add another player further up the field who could break down a defensive Jamaica. The ploy failed, however, as Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore employed two strikers in a 4-4-2. With Mexico having no full-backs, the midfielders and even the attacking wingers had to double back. This was especially noticeable down the left flank, where Gutierrez and Orbelin Pineda were forced to cover whenever Owayne Gordon moved forward from his right midfield role. Youngsters Gutierrez and Pineda appeared confused by the formation and couldn't influence the game.

The counter-argument is that El Tri's squad at the Gold Cup was largely young and experimental, and is still in the process of adapting to Osorio and international football. Then again, so was the Jamaican squad -- only one of its 23 members is based in Europe.

The other question emerging from this tournament: is this next generation of Mexican players really that good?

While Osorio has said that he loves working with the Gold Cup group, more should be expected from Gutierrez, Pineda and Rodolfo Pizarro during these games in the United States. If they are to challenge for places at the World Cup and attract the attention of European clubs, they need to make a statement in these kinds of matches. After all, Mexico is basically at home when playing in Pasadena.

Mexico were left stunned as Jamaica reached the Gold Cup final at their expense.

Instead, their performances -- which were average, rather than terrible -- further emphasized Mexico's glaring lack of depth, particularly when facing players that would struggle to be regulars in Liga MX, aside from perhaps goalkeeper Andre Blake. That, in turn, opens up a separate but linked debate about Mexico's first division and the number of foreign players in the league.

"Today we lost, but we also won," wrote Mexico legend Jared Borgetti on Twitter. "They should realize that if we continue like this with more foreigners in the league, this will be our future. It's time to react."

The Liga MX has been flooded with foreign players at an unprecedented rate over recent years, and the flow of youngsters into first teams has slowed because of it. Osorio's long-term and well-considered philosophy for Mexico involves players developing in Liga MX and moving to top European leagues to play at the highest possible level of competition. Given the lack of opportunities for youngsters and the high price Liga MX clubs ask for players, however, this vision is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon.

Those aren't the only things standing in Mexico's way. The large number of summer tournaments, the structure of the league and the weakness of the second division -- coupled with the lack of scouting networks or qualified coaches, the mixed decision-making and quality of youth facilities around the country -- all hinder El Tri in comparison to the world's elite.

Some Mexico fans may be citing Osorio as El Tri's problem, when in reality the issues surrounding Mexico's continued failure to live up to its potential run much deeper. The real question for the FMF now is whether he is still part of the solution.

If it is decided that he isn't and Osorio does leave Mexico, you can bet he won't be short of job offers. The FMF chiefs, on the other hand, would then have to convince someone that all the baggage that comes with this post is actually worth it.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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