Chepo’s still a cloudy picture as Mexico returns from Brazil

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Broadly, your choice to replace a coach falls into one of two categories:

1.) You can get somebody better. Be it for soccer reasons, their personality, or some other compromising circumstance, you decide the person you have isn’t as good as the person you could get. Despite strong results, this is ultimately what U.S. Soccer chose to do with Bob Bradley.

2.) Yes, in another situation, your replacement might be a worse option, but something about the way your current guy fits with the squad means its time for a change. See San Jose’s recent divorce from Frank Yallop.

The first category’s the easy one. You know something is lacking, you’re confident the coach is part of the problem, and with another man in mind, you make the call. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can move forward in the knowledge you’re making a proactive, confident choice.

After their team’s performance at the Confederations Cup, Mexico still find themselves closer to situation number two, unsure whether they’ve reached a point where change for change’s sake is worth it. In Brazil, the team showed some improvement over their World Cup qualifying form, but the squad is still underperforming. Whereas a clicking Mexico would have competed with Italy for second in their group, the team ended the tournament fighting for third against Japan.

That high standard — expected to be notable better than a strong Asian champion — defines the perceived limbo of Chepo de la Torre, a man whose abilities have been proven at both club and international level. When Javier Aguirre left the team after the last World Cup, de la Torre’s record in Mexico made him a clear frontrunner for the job. That status was validated a year later when El Tri showed unprecedented dominance in winning the 2011 Gold Cup. The man can clearly not only coach, he can coach this team.

That’s what makes the FMF’s evaluation so difficult. As de la Torre said in Brazil, it doesn’t matter if you finish first, second, or third in in qualifying. Everybody makes it to the World Cup on even footing, yet results are the only way to judge how a team is evolving ahead of that goal. And if Mexico’s evolution is judged by their one win in six CONCACAF qualifiers or their step back from their Gold Cup form, they’re evolving the wrong way.

Is Chepo doing anything wrong? Perhaps. He seems out of ideas, and the changes he’s making to the team seem more like grasping at straws than a reflection of coherent plan. He’s reluctant to move away from playing Javier Hernández as part of a tandem, has been unable to get Gio dos Santos back to his Gold Cup effectiveness, and doesn’t have a solution for teams sitting back and waiting to hit them on the counter. The end result is a lack of goals, a series of draws, and doubts about Mexico’s direction.

If those doubts go away with a new coach, whether you think he’s better than de la Torre or not, you make the move. And maybe, after three years on the job, de la Torre’s no longer able to motivate his players and needs to move on. Maybe Mexico needs a man who will finally bring back Carlos Vela? Or maybe, with these particularly players, Chepo really is out of ideas.

But if you’re really switching coach just to shake things up, you have to be very, very careful. Because  with Chepo, if it doesn’t work, you may have just let the best man for the job walk out the door.

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.