Mexico can reverse recent woes with Gold Cup title in sight

LAS VEGAS — Typically even-tempered and collected, Mexico interim manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano couldn’t help but smile much more after collecting a 3-0 semifinal victory on Wednesday against Jamaica that has guided his team to the Gold Cup final.

“If I rewind the tape to three weeks ago, I was unemployed,” said the 44-year-old coach from Mexico City. “There was a person, who was up in that box [at the stadium], that trusted in me. That believed in me and believed in my process.”

Lozano was referring to Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the new commissioner of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF). Hired just a month before Lozano in May, Rodriguez took an immediate risk in late June by firing former coach Diego Cocca after a disappointing 3-0 loss to the United States in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.

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Even in a Mexican soccer world that has had no lack of rapid hirings and firings at the international or club level, some wondered if it was a dangerous gamble for Rodriguez to drop Cocca and then appoint Lozano as interim just days before the start of the summer’s second regional tournament.

And yet, just a few weeks later, many fans and media are now wondering if it’ll now be a bigger risk for Rodriguez to not give Lozano the full-time gig, regardless of what happens Sunday in the tournament’s final against Panama.

“I arrived for a Gold Cup; that’s what’s in my mind,” said Lozano in Wednesday’s post-game news conference, highlighting the initial agreed length of his stay with the national team.

But should it be longer?

Building off the connection that he’s previously had with a strong core of the roster — Lozano was the former coach of Mexico’s Olympic team that finished with a bronze medal in the 2020 games — the manager has successfully taken his attack-minded and counter-pressing blueprints to El Tri at the Gold Cup.

That’s led to an attractive style of soccer that has made Mexico look more proactive and dynamic in years. Even with occasional disconnects and questions regarding finishing, which makes sense when the manager just arrived in late June, El Tri have secured four wins in their last five games, allowing just two goals along the way.

It was at the same stadium where Mexico were humiliated by the USMNT in that Nations League clash last month, but Thursday’s win over the Reggae Boyz was an exclamation point in Lozano’s quick progress with the team.

In the same manner that Lozano has swiftly made an impact this summer, so did Mexico with a goal in the second minute of the semifinal by Henry Martin. Mexico continued forcing errors from Jamaica, eventually leading to a mesmerizing free-kick golazo from Luis Chavez in the 30th minute. After that, it was just in-game management for Mexico as they allowed themselves to catch their breath in the second half, which later led to a late burst in energy that provided substitute Roberto Alvarado with a final goal in the 93rd minute.

Against a Jamaica side that now has English Premier League players such as Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey, Everton’s Demarai Gray and West Ham United’s Michail Antonio in their revamped roster, Mexico’s Lozano overwhelmed and quieted the players in a statement result.

It also reinforced the idea that the players are very content with their new manager as well.

“He’s done things in the best manner,” said full-back Jorge Sanchez after the game. “He’s a coach who is very capable, a coach that makes things real simple on the pitch. You already know what’s going to happen on the pitch. I think that gives you an essential box of tools. You enter the field a little more confident, a little more calm. For me, that’s the best thing about Jaime.”

Midfielder Carlos Rodriguez added to the praise.

“On the field you see the unity in this squad, this national team. The technical staff, the players, you see it day by day in the trainings,” said the Cruz Azul player.

“It’s not a decision that we take ourselves,” Rodriguez later stated when asked if Lozano should now be the permanent coach. “But I think you can see from the outside the confidence and belief that he gives us.”

Should Mexico defeat Panama on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, to win the title, then Lozano will have proved his case for the job.

It won’t be easy against a Panama side ousted the United States on penalties earlier Wednesday to reach the final. Los Canaleros previously made things difficult in a narrow 1-0 loss to Mexico in June’s Nations League third-place match, and midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla has emerged as one the region’s top players.

Mexico can’t start celebrating just yet, but there’s also no denying the momentum that Lozano has created in a short amount of time before the final. In fact, he graciously responded to a reporter who said he proven that he should be the permanent coach.

“That’s your point of view and I value it and appreciate it, and if you were over there [in the FMF box] I would perhaps continue,” said Lozano with a laugh. “But unfortunately or fortunately the person who makes that decision is someone else.”

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