It's probably time to administer the last rites to Coach Jose Manuel… (Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty…)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The death watch on Mexican soccer Coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre began months ago, as El Tri struggled to win just one of six matches in the final round of World Cup qualifying, then lost twice in the Confederations Cup in Brazil.
But it's probably time to administer the last rites after Mexico's 2-1 loss to Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals Wednesday.
The loss marked the first time a team has beaten El Tri twice in the same Gold Cup, the first loss coming by an identical 2-1 score in the opening game. And though Mexico was much more dynamic and energetic in the rematch, by losing, the two-time defending Gold Cup champs will miss the final for the first time since 2005.
De la Torre can argue he was playing with a "B" team, missing stars such as Giovani Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Manchester United star Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. But the five other Gold Cup teams in World Cup qualifying used back-up teams as well.
After the first Panama loss, at the Rose Bowl, angry Mexican fans hurled debris at De la Torre, who left the field to loud chants of "Fire Chepo." Demanding the head of the national team manager is a long-standing tradition in Mexico, where just one coach has managed to survive an entire four-year World Cup cycle in more than 40 years. So De la Torre certainly wasn't surprised by the calls for his dismissal.
And he has answered them by pointing out the main goal for Mexico this year isn't the Gold Cup but the World Cup. Mexico must finish in the top three in regional qualifying to assure itself an invitation to Brazil next summer, and with four fall matches left, Mexico is third in the table. If the tournament ended today, Chepo has said repeatedly, Mexico would advance.
But the tournament doesn't end today. And if Mexico loses its next qualifier, at home to Honduras on Sept. 6, it would fall out of the top three heading into a Sept. 10 match with the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio, where Mexico has never won.
But you don't need speculation to make the argument that Mexico is in trouble. After winning all six of its matches in the third round of World Cup qualifying, scoring 15 goals, El Tri has scored just three times in six matches in the final round. At Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, where the home team has long been untouchable, De la Torre's team hasn't scored a goal all year, playing to three scoreless draws.
Clearly something isn't right. And because it's easier to find one new coach rather than 23 new players, Mexico may have to sacrifice Chepo to salvage its World Cup hopes. Making a move now, more than six weeks before the next qualifier, would give a new coach time to get adjusted to the job and chose a team.
Mexico hasn't missed a World Cup for which it was eligible in more than three decades. Betting on De la Torre to continue that streak may now be a long shot.