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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.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
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When it comes down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clear.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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Three things we learned from Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph

Seattle Sounders players chase defender Roman Torres (29) after he scored the game-winning shootout goal to defeat the Toronto FC during shoot out MLS Cup soccer final action in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
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MLS Cup 2016 was the most well-played game of soccer all year — far from it, in fact — but the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions for the first time in their eight-year history anyway.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS Cup coverage ]

Three thoughts on a poorly-played, but thoroughly intense 2016 finale…

A cup final, it most certainly was

The numbers of cup finals which feature brilliant, composed attacking play is hugely outweighed by the number of cup finals featuring a total lack thereof. Whether it was down to nerves, the frigid conditions in which the game was played, or a combination of the two, Saturday’s final at BMO Field was yet another example of the latter.

The telling stats: 40 fouls between the two sides (just three yellow cards shown); zero first-half shots attempted by the Sounders, and just three shots in total over 120 minutes (zero on target).

The only moment of true quality came in the 108th minute, when Stefan Frei made the best save you’ve seen all year to deny Jozy Altidore and keep the Sounders on level terms (WATCH HERE).

Michael Bradley, man of the match (until his PK)

As we’ve come to expect, Bradley was anywhere and everywhere on the field for TFC, at all the right times. With Osvaldo Alonso playing the part of warrior in the Sounders midfield, and Jonathan Osorio’s attacking prowess preferred to the defensive chops of Will Johnson alonside Bradley, it was up to the U.S. national team captain to singlehandedly track and mark Nicolas Lodeiro out of the game. He did just that, and so much more.

Then, came his penalty kick, TFC’s second, which was hit with so little pace and no more than three feet to Frei’s left for the easiest save he’d make all night.

The greatest comeback in MLS history

You’ve heard it all by now, but it doesn’t make what the Sounders did from August to December any less remarkable — from ninth place on the day Sigi Schmid was fired (two days before Lodeiro arrived), to the MLS summit in four and a half months. Clint Dempsey, the Sounders’ highest-paid player, was then lost for the rest of the season a month later (irregular heartbeat). No team in MLS history had ever overcome a points gap that large (10) that late in the season to even qualify for the playoffs, let alone advance in said playoffs, reach MLS Cup, and lift the trophy.

Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native and member of the Sounders family since his own playing days beginning in 1980, replaced Schmid with (presumably) the idea that he’d see out the lost season as interim head coach before making way for a big-name hire this winter. He won eight of his first 14 games as a head coach instead, led the Sounders to the four-seed in the Western Conference, and delivered to his hometown the ultimate prize on Saturday.

Watching the Portland Timbers lift MLS Cup 2015 was undoubtedly the toughest pill to swallow for anyone in Rave Green, but to end their Cascaida Cup rivals’ reign as defending champions by winning that very piece of silverware themselves … that’s a one-up that’ll last a lifetime.