Grasping at straws: Mexico changes course (again), to replace Víctor Manuel Vucetich with Miguel Herrera

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After Mexican broadcaster Televisa reported the news this morning, soccer’s slice of the internet blew up with speculation that Victor Manuel Vucetich was out as Mexican national team coach. But with only one report in hand and no independent verification, all news was being prefaced with “if this is true.” Follow international soccer long enough, and your “if this is true” pile will soon dwarf your “this actually happen” list.

It’s time to move this story from one pile to the other, now that ESPNFC has their own verification. Vucetich, who ended his highly successful reign with Monterrey to take the national team’s job, will be fired after two matches in charge of El Tri. According to both reports, Club America head coach Miguel Herrera will be tasked with getting Mexico through next month’s playoff against New Zealand and into the 2014 World Cup.

Herrera’s in the middle of a period of wild success with the Mexico City giants, the reason why he’s in position to assume Vucetich’s post. He guided them to the title of Liga MX’s winter-spring tournament (Clausura) and has the club six points clear through 12 games this fall.  If there’s a coach of the moment in Mexican soccer, Herrera was it before being linked with the Tricolor’s post.

His club also has a number of players who, while not called up in the last round, could be brought in for the playoff,; players such as defenders Francisco Javier ‘Maza’ Rodríguez and Paul Aguilar and midfielder Juan Carlos Medina. Current America players Miguel Layun and Raul Jimenez were called up for matches against Panama and Costa Rica.

The appointment would make Herrera Mexico’s fourth coach of the qualifying cycle, an insane amount of turnover for a team that was favored to win the Hex 10 games ago. Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre managed the team’s first seven final round matches before being dismissed after a home loss to Honduras. Luis Fernando Tena coached the squad to a loss in Columbus to the United States before Vucetich was appointed as permanent boss. The former Monterrey man defeated Panama at home before losing on the road to Costa Rica.

Given those results, Vucetich’s sacking would be impetuously harsh. His Mexico team wasn’t the first to lose to Costa Rica, a team that’s qualified for the World Cup. Though they did need a miraculous, late finish from Jimenez to claim full points against Panama, Vucetich’s Mexico had essentially held serve, something they’d failed to do under de la Torre. Perhaps Mexico still weren’t playing up to lofty (and justified) expectations, but Vucetich’s small sample had shown progress, at least in the results.

Now he’s set to be replaced by a man who, while very successful in recent tournaments, has a résumé which pales in comparison to Vucetich’s. The 45-year-old Herrera has won one Mexican championship, though he’s in position to claim another. Vucetich has five Primera Division titles to his credit. He’s also won CONCACAF Champions League three times (in a row), two Copa Méxicos, two second division titles (early in his career), and has two manager of the tournament awards.

source: AP
Victor Manuel Vucetich won five Mexican titles and three CONCACAF championships, but after going 1-1-0 in his two World Cup Qualifiers, he’s set to be fired as Mexican National Team coach. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Perhaps most telling, when comparing the two, is the time they’ve spent at Monterrey. Herrera coached the Rayados from 2004 to 2007, taking them to two tournament finals but failing to claim a championship. Vucetich, who took over Monterrey in 2009, won five major honors during his time in Nuevo Leon. Of course, domestic records can only tell us so much about international success (de la Torre’s accomplishments in Mexico are very impressive); however, the side-by-side comparison between doesn’t falter the incoming boss.

It all leads to the impression Mexico’s grasping at straws – struggling to accept the reality of their circumstances.  That’s not something you could have said about the Vucetich hire, which carried the impression of a revered boss joining the team in its time of need (much as Javier Aguirre did last cycle, replacing Sven Goran Eriksson). Now, the FMF’s resorted to change for change’s sake.

Herrera may not be the man who couldn’t win at Monterrey — he may have matured from the young man who fell short four jobs ago — but there’s little reason to believe he’s a better option than Vucetich. This is a man whose 12-year coaching career is about to embrace its eighth job. In the face of Vucetich’s success of Monterrey, that speak poorly of Mexico’s decision-making process.

Rather than continuing to look at coaches as the problem, it’s time for the FMF consider something’s broken with this squad. Sometime after the successes of the 2011 Gold Cup and 2012 Olympics, Mexico did a face plant from which it’s been unable to recover, and given the constant has been the players, it’s time to stop placing blame with the coaches. Whether it’s chemistry, fit, motivation, or just a prolonged blip in performance, these players are not the star most thought they’d be. It’s a problem that’s transcended coaches.

But instead of taking that approach, the FMF seems to be adopting a two wrongs make a right view. If the squad’s broken, let’s break the coaching situation, too. Maybe the match between two fractured parts, a technical area as aimless as the talent on the pitch, will allow them to luck into the World Cup.

With Herrera, it may work, but odds are Vucetich would have come up with a solution. He just needed more than a month.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.