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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Tom Marshall

Five questions for critics of Mexico's Juan Carlos Osorio

Here we go again. It feels like we've been here many times before. The Mexican national team coach is heading into the Gold Cup feeling the heat from critics.

Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio is dividing opinion and there have been some high-profile calls for him to be fired, including from El Tri legend Hugo Sanchez, following a mediocre Confederations Cup campaign in Russia.

Here are five questions to consider for those calling for the 56-year-old to be removed from his position.

1. Is Mexico's problem really the coach?

Twelve Mexico managers have come and gone since Joachim Low took over at Germany in July 2006. The average time in charge has been just over 12 months. Only Hugo Sanchez, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, Miguel Herrera and now Osorio have lasted more than one year.

The Mexican national team job is one of the most challenging in world football, precisely because the expectations don't match the reality of a nation that has never stepped into the world elite consistently. In some ways, Mexico has done just fine at world level -- El Tri is the only team aside from Germany and Brazil to reach the knockout stages of the past six World Cups but haven't ever really threatened to win it.

Raphael Honigstein's excellent book "Das Reboot" is a must-read for anyone seeking to understanding how Germany rose from an abysmal Euro 2000 to establish itself as the standard-bearer in the international game. It becomes clear that the national team manager is just the overseer -- albeit an important one -- of a project that every strand of the nation's footballing community is feeding into, from the grassroots on up.

Of special interest to Mexico in Honigstein's book should be the relationship between the domestic league and the national team in handing young players' debuts and giving them time to settle, something that Liga MX is struggling to do for Mexico.

2. Is quality depth there for any manager?

It is perfectly reasonable to question why Oswaldo Alanis was fielded as left-back against Germany or Giovani dos Santos as a midfielder in the same Confederations Cup game last month. And Osorio should be questioned on why Mexico fielded ball-playing midfielder Herrera instead of a holding midfielder who could provide more solidity.

After an uninspired Confederations Cup performance in Russia, naysayers are turning up the heat on Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

But in both the 4-1 defeat to Germany and the 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario, Osorio played basically the strongest possible team in a 4-3-3 formation that the majority of fans would seem to want. And it wasn't good enough on either occasion.

It begs the question of how much Mexico should expect with the current crop of players. El Tri went into the Confederations Cup as the fourth-ranked team and finished fourth. It was an average performance, not a disastrous one.

And then a look at the Gold Cup squad raises deep and substantial concerns about what is coming through. The lack of Mexican centre-forwards behind the established names should be extremely worrisome, while the goalkeeper position isn't as secure as some seem to think.

This question, however, poses another worry for Osorio: The depth isn't suddenly going to improve between now and next year, meaning he'll have to find solutions with what he has.

3. Is the Gold Cup the right tournament to make real judgments?

The overriding atmosphere heading into the Gold Cup -- using the Mexican press as a barometer -- is that Osorio's position is vulnerable. The vultures are circling and there will be incredible scrutiny over every decision he makes.

Yet this is a tournament with only three teams in the world's top 50. It is an opportunity for Osorio to boost his options moving forward and to greater understand the depth Mexico has, especially among the younger players. It's arguably more important for Mexico to see three or four players like Orbelin Pineda, Edson Alvarez and Jesus Gallardo stand out and make their cases for World Cup involvement than to win the competition.

In the priority tournament -- World Cup qualifying -- Mexico is undefeated in first place, which stands in stark comparison to the travails of four years ago.

4. Who would come in?

It's not as though it was easy for the Mexican Football Federation to select a new coach when Osorio came in October 2015. A host of names declined, put off by a national team that has been unable to find consistency at the head-coaching position.

Miguel Herrera would be a step back, Marcelo Bielsa is now busy at Lille, Jorge Sampaoli is with Argentina and Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti has made it clear he doesn't want the job.

Argentine Matias Almeyda would be the most popular pick following his title with Chivas, but even he might not be convinced if Osorio's time comes to an end so soon.

5. Is it time to listen to the players?

It's less than a year to the World Cup and no country on the path to qualification should be changing coaches -- unless that coach has lost the support of the players.

In Mexico's case, that hasn't happened. Rafa Marquez, Javier Hernandez and a host of other leading squad members have fiercely backed Osorio and his methods, when it really would be easy for any of them to come out against the rotations.

This next World Cup will see Mexico's core group of players -- Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera, Hector Moreno, Guillermo Ochoa -- all in their prime. They need to make Russia 2018 count and haven't given any suggestion that they believe Osorio isn't the right coach to help them do that.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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