Cesar Hernandez7 minutes of reading
It is fitting that Mexican soccer is the latest telenovela-like drama is supposed to be resolved by a coach sometimes referred to as “El Actor”.
Born to entertainer parents (hence his nickname), Jaime Lozano did not seek the same limelight as his mother and father. Instead, football came calling through a career as a player and manager, but after a recent crisis emerged in the distance from Mexico’s men’s national team, the coach often referred to simply as “Jimmy”, now finds himself as an unexpected leading man.
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His new marquee role: Reviving the national team as interim manager in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
After a frustrating third-place finish in the Concacaf Nations League last week, which included a dismal 3-0 loss to their American rivals in the semi-finals, Mexico dropped Diego Cocca as coach on Monday after just a few months in charge. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has been trying to find a solution before the start of the Gold Cup this weekend, appointing Lozano as provisional for the tournament.
Desperate for success after a disappointing 2022 World Cup and just one title in all competitions since 2016, Mexico will now pin all their hopes on the shoulders of their 44-year tenure. Will the script work for The threeor will it turn out to be another big box office flop?
How Mexico Got Here
Before we discuss Lozano and the Gold Cup, let’s first assess the prequel.
In the last few years, the progress of Mexican soccer has stalled on several levels. The senior men’s side, who stumbled out of the Qatar 2022 group stage, have failed to win a title in the last two editions of the Nations League and the previous edition of the Gold Cup. Looking at the men’s youth side, the U20 squad failed to qualify for the 2023 U20 World Cup and 2024 Olympics. As for the women’s senior national team, they fell short in qualifying for the upcoming Women’s World Cup and next year’s Olympics.
A long series of personnel changes in the FMF followed since last summer, and in February Cocca was chosen as the new coach of the men’s senior team. Characterized by his cautious playing style that prioritized results at any cost, there were immediate doubts about the Argentine manager, who did not use the most attractive methods of playing football.
Unconvincing performances and narrow results emerged, as did new bosses for Cocca with several FMF personnel changes this spring, leading to scrutiny of his 2W-3D-0L record ahead of this month’s Nations League knockout round. Although his team defeated Panama 1-0 in last Sunday’s third-place match, the miserable 3-0 loss to the United States in the previous semi-final was enough to solidify his fate. On Monday, new FMF commissioner Juan Carlos Rodriguez made it official.
“This phase has been marred by disarray in decision-making, by the lack of process, rigor and transparency in appointments, and by a perfect storm of bad habits that we have dragged on for so many years,” Rodriguez said.
“The natural thing to do would be to wait until the end of the Gold Cup, but today we have no time to waste. So I inform you that I have made the decision to terminate the contract with Diego Martin Cocca and members of his coaching staff.”
Cocca, flanked by media after his flight back to Mexico City, appeared confused by the decision.
“I did everything I could and they didn’t let me continue,” the coach said as he walked through the airport.
Who is Lozano and what can we expect from him
With Cocca out of the picture, Lozano is now the mild-mannered but youthful hero there The three need? A former left-back who has represented the Mexican national team and a handful of Liga MX clubs, Lozano quickly progressed from an academy coach and assistant to eventually coaching Queretaro in 2017.
A chance with Mexico’s youth national team then came in 2018, which is when his star would really rise. Lozano and The threes youth team would go on to finish third in the 2019 Pan American Games, as winners of the 2020 Concacaf men’s Olympic qualification title, and later as bronze medalists at Tokyo 2020. Despite a mixed amount of results at the club level with Queretaro and later with Necaxa in 2022, the future coach is widely seen as one of the more promising leaders in Mexican football.
That, coupled with his experience with many of the former youth internationals who are now senior players, is what led to his appointment.
“I thank you for agreeing to lead the team from now until the end of this [Gold Cup] tournament, the players know you and love you well, Jaime,” Rodriguez said on Monday. “Thank you, Jimmy, to you and your staff, for coming to support Mexico in the midst of this crisis.”
Among the 23 players included in the Gold Cup roster, which dropped Alexis Vega due to injury and replaced him with Roberto Alvarado on Tuesday, Lozano thrived in the 2020 Olympics with a strong core of 10 current call-ups: Guillermo Ochoa, Jorge Sanchez, Cesar Montes, Johan Vasquez, Luis Romo, Carlos Rodriguez, Sebastian Cordova, Henry Martin, Uriel Antuna and Alvarado. In fact, that number would be 11 if not for Vegas’ injury.
Assuming he will follow the game plan seen at Tokyo 2020, we will see a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 formation that focuses on a counter-pressing style. Instead of winning by any means like Cocca, Lozano will want to be more on the front foot and take charge in the opposition’s end of the pitch. Set pieces will be key, as will a willingness to let his central midfielders roam from their positions.
In attack, he tends to give his wingers the freedom to search for and take 1v1 situations. If there is too much defensive overload, he is likely to aim to switch the ball quickly through long passes or his roaming midfielders. Defensively, he will likely ask his wingers to help regain possession and drop back when necessary. Depending on the opponent, his full-backs also tend to be more reserved, to help compensate for the creativity allowed to the midfielders and wingers.
But that’s all in theory from what he’s done in the past at youth national team level.
On paper, at least, Mexico should be more fun to watch than the more conservative setup under Cocca, but whether it will work immediately is another conversation.
Can Mexico earn Gold Cup glory?
That is, of course, the big question.
Regardless of the fact that Lozano has just four days to prepare before Sunday’s group opener against Honduras in Houston, the bare minimum for Mexico will be to win the Gold Cup. Although it won’t be easy for one The three side that has retreated from its former status as the behemoth of the region, the national team setup will have no excuses when you consider that other title contenders such as Canada and the United States are sending MLS-heavy “B” teams to the tournament.
Although the roster is out of shape – and missing some key injured players like Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (no relation) – man for man, Mexico should be the superior team in the Gold Cup.
Ought to is important to emphasize there. Lozano has the know-how and squad to get the job done, but the obvious factor of limited time to prepare is one that cannot be ignored.
Looking ahead, the group stage should be an interesting gut check to see exactly where the team is at. After playing Honduras at the weekend, The three will then face Haiti on June 30 before closing the group stage against tournament invitees Qatar on July 2.
More than likely, Mexico are expected to qualify for the knockout round, where they will have the opportunity to regain respect in the region and a title, but after some of the problems seen in the Nations League, there is a chance that last week was just the beginning in a very long summer.
Whatever happens, it will make for some exciting football cinema.