Juan Carlos Osorio given vote of confidence before Mexico semifinal
LOS ANGELES -- One of the talking points in Mexico after El Tri's 1-0 quarterfinal victory over Honduras in the Gold Cup was a video of a hug on the final whistle between Mexican federation (FMF) president Decio de Maria and Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio.
It was an embrace that spoke of relief, certainly for Osorio, but for De Maria as well. Ahead of that game, Osorio had been questioned about whether he believed his job was on the line with a loss. He responded by saying the question should be directed at De Maria, or "Don Decio" as Osorio calls him.
As the Mexico national team arrived from LAX to its Manhattan Beach hotel on Friday afternoon, De Maria spoke to waiting reporters two days out from Sunday's semifinal in the Rose Bowl against Jamaica. And he backed Osorio firmly.
"It's been a difficult summer for everyone, especially Juan Carlos [Osorio], but like [FMF general secretary] Guillermo [Cantu] mentioned, we know who Juan Carlos is," De Maria said. "We're coming up to two years and we are increasingly convinced that he is the coach to lead this project and World Cup process."
Cantu had stated in El Tri's last stop in Phoenix that he would choose Osorio all over again if given another chance to choose in the days and months after Miguel Herrera was fired for swinging a punch at a commentator the morning after winning the 2015 Gold Cup.
The mood in camp appears lighter after that win over Honduras, even if it wasn't a comprehensive victory. There was a feeling that a loss in that game was entirely possible, especially with Honduras' defensive outlook and the rules stating there would be no extra time in case of a draw.
But whatever happens from here on in this Gold Cup, the lines have been drawn with Osorio. The divide between those backing him and those wanting him to leave is unlikely to change much moving forward.
There are those that believe it is ridiculous to suggest that Osorio's job should be on the line in this Gold Cup, given he has a B squad at his disposal. The argument is that it was always going to be a difficult job to mold a cohesive team on such short notice. And while the Confederations Cup performance with the A squad wasn't ideal, Mexico did as well as the FIFA rankings and overall objective opinion would have predicted: fourth place.
The positive take says that the current crop of Mexican players almost all state positive things about Osorio. But on the other side of the debate are the critics that see a tired manager, who hasn't given El Tri a defined style and whose team doesn't excite.
They argue every time Mexico has failed every time they have come up against a strong side in the Osorio era, pointing to the losses against Chile last summer and Germany a few weeks ago in the Confederations Cup. And Osorio's sideline rants and ban at the Gold Cup have fueled suspicion that he is feeling the pressure.
Those who want Osorio out -- including El Tri legends such as Claudio Suarez and Hugo Sanchez -- see an inflexible manager incapable of adapting his philosophy on rotations to international football, especially in short, intense tournaments. Jamaica will be another test for this fringe Mexico squad and both sides of the Osorio debate will be looking for more evidence to support their thesis.
The Reggae Boyz are arguably the toughest opponent El Tri could face in this Gold Cup, aside from the United States. That might sound exaggerated given that Costa Rica and Panama have performed better so far, but Jamaica plays the type of game that can cause Mexico real problems, as we saw in the 0-0 tie in the second game of Group C.
Jamaica almost completely skips the midfield most of the time, playing direct balls into the striker -- although coach Theodore Whitmore played two up front against Canada -- or into the channels between the full-backs and center-backs as soon as possible when in possession. The Canadian team was the better footballing side by a distance in Thursday's quarterfinal, but Jamaica sliced through them with ease and could've scored more in the 2-1 win.
Osorio will be desperate for the more physical holding midfielder Jesus Molina to be recovered from the injury that forced him off in the second half against Honduras. After he vacated the pitch, Honduras was noticeably more dangerous, and Molina's presence off the bench at halftime helped Mexico control the second half in the first game against El Salvador.
It will be fascinating to see how much Osorio rotates. The former Atletico Nacional coach would do so in normal circumstances given there are only two days in between matches, but he's never been this far in a major national team tournament. Resting players against the weakest team in the group stage is one thing, but doing the same for a semifinal is a huge risk.
Whichever way he goes, at least Osorio heads into the final few days of the Gold Cup knowing his job is safe.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.