SEATTLE – The lights from the cameras in the bowels of CenturyLink Field reflected in Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre's eyes. But make no mistake, this was no twinkle.
De la Torre's encounters with the press have becoming increasingly caustic. The questions for the Mexican national team coach during 2013 hover between bold and straight up antagonistic.
“If I paid attention to all the nonsense [the press] says, I'd be sick, in a hospital,” Chepo said, his face stony. He pulled his baseball cap low, 'JMT' printed on the side, and wore FMF-branded training gear. In regards to his continued employment, the Mexican press is, in some ways, his opponent.
The next actual adversary is Canada. Mexico lost its first Gold Cup match to Panama. A defeat Thursday could see Mexico fail to advance to the group stages for the first time in tournament history.
“I never think about losing,” Chepo said curtly when asked about such a scenario. The former Chivas Guadalajara and Toluca coach stopped well short of guaranteeing a victory, however.
“If I knew what was going to happen tomorrow I would buy a lottery ticket,” Chepo said. “We work to be better game by game. The players know that. They seek the result. They try and do their best. We're going to try to be more precise in a lot of different aspects.”
Canada, too, will need to improve precision to have any chance of winning. The only team other than Mexico and the United States to win the Gold Cup lost its opener to Martinique, 1-0, conceding in stoppage time.
Since then, captain Will Johnson has returned to Portland with an illness that prompted an early substitution versus the French foreign department. Simeon Jackson and Randy Edwini-Bonsu also pulled out of the squad.
Any changes to Mexico will be tactical, rather than injury-induced. De la Torre refused to comment on alterations. He will inform his players of the starting 11 on Thursday before the game. One possible inclusion is Carlos Peña, who entered at half against Panama and offered impetus from midfield. Chepo may also shuffle his forward crop. Aside from Marco Fabian's goal, all three failed to effectively whittle down the well drilled Panamanian defense.
“As far as how the team is coming along, I feel that we are lacking the final touch, given that we created multiple opportunities,” Chepo said. “The players have a clear mind of what we want and what we want them to do. In that aspect I think there will be changes.”
Though featuring a reserve roster with no more than a dozen caps for any player, El Tri always expects to win the Gold Cup. Mexico has won six of the previous 11, including the last two.
“We know that Mexico always needs to win,” Alejandro Castro said. “We know about the pressure we have on us. But we are professionals, so we have to deal with that.”
The cameras kept rolling, the questions lobbed forward mercilessly. De la Torre rested his wrists on the table in front of him, the tips of his fingers touching. From beneath his cap, he stared solemnly and steadfastly at the room in front of him.
“If you want the pressure to hurt you, it's going to hurt you. If you don't want it to hurt you, it's not going to hurt you,” Chepo said. He turned his palms upright. “When I accepted this position I knew exactly the challenges that I took to be in this position. Just because we won certain games doesn't mean we're the best in the world. And now that we haven't won some games, we're not the worst.
“At least I'm not dramatic.”
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