Jose Luis 'Chepo' de la Torre deviated from the norm in an otherwise frivolous 4-1 friendly win over the Ivory Coast on Wednesday. The Mexico roster featured two naturalized Argentinian midfielders and a new formation – or at least a tweak on the previous arrangement.
The knock against El Tri coach de la Torre was that he clings to his style and principles long after they stop working. The lack of evolution scuppered his spells at Chivas and Toluca even after a bright start like winning Liga MX titles.
And his tenure as the Mexico national team boss followed a similar trajectory. El Tri blistered through 2012, winning 10 of 12 games. But something soured over the New Year. Mexico won just two of its first 13 games in 2013. In the Gold Cup, against easier, local competition, Mexico bowed out at the semifinal round to Panama, despite it boosting their winning percentage. Previously, Mexico hadn't missed the final since 2005.
Liga MX owners and Mexican federation (FMF) officials met earlier in the month to discuss the viability of de la Torre's future. They decided to stick with the coach as Mexico is still on course to qualify for the World Cup - Chepo's primary goal.
The friendly against Ivory Coast provided a reprieve from the glut of competitive fixtures. An unfettered Mexico responded with a fluid, incisive performance that easily bests any of its displays so far this year. Key to the improvement was the inclusion of Argentine-born Christian 'Chaco' Gimenez. (Damian Alvarez, the 34-year-old Tigres midfielder, played the final half hour, tripling his international minutes following a brief runout against Colombia in a friendly last year.)
“We've always left the door open for everyone,” Chepo said prior to the match. “Those that are available, want [to play] and are committed to the objective of qualification are welcome.”
With European-based wingers Andres Guadado and Javier Aquino unavailable, de la Torre tinkered with his traditional setup. The trio of Gimenez, Giovani Dos Santos, and Angel Reyna floated behind Oribe Peralta. Quick interchanges and fluidity quickly propelled Mexico to a three-goal lead by halftime. Additionally, Cruz Azul sparkplug Chaco offered additional support to the central midfield, a nagging problem area for Mexico of late.
Ivory Coast sat the majority of its starters, clearly uninterested in the friendly as a sporting contest. Still, Gimenez offered enough to perhaps edge Guardado out of the starting lineup for the World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Sept. 6.
He also became the 14th naturalized player for El Tri.
“There are a lot of players that wait 10 or 20 years and don't play for the national team, and it motivates me,” Gimenez said. “I'm committed to the national team.”
Earlier the same day, two naturalized Americans debuted for the U.S. national team. Aron Johannsson and John Anthony Brooks contributed to a 4-3 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina. But while the United States actively pursues foreign-born and dual-national players, Mexico shies away from the practice.
Or, it did until Chepo realized he needed to change.
Here's a list of all 15 naturalized El Tri players and what years they played:
1. Julio Lores (Peru) (1935-1938)
2. José López Herranz (Spain) (1937-1938)
3. Carlos Blanco (Spain) (1952-58)
4. Alfredo Costas (Argentina) (1952)
5. Antonio Bataglia (Argentina) (1952)
6. Jorge Romo (Cuba) (1954-58)
7. Carlos Lara (Argentina) (1961-1962)
8. Gabriel Caballero (Argentina) (2002)
9. Antonio Naelson (Brazil) (2004-2010)
10. Guillermo Franco (Argentina) (2005-2010)
11. Vicente Matías Vuoso (Argentina) (2008-2010)
12. Leandro Augusto (Brazil) (2008)
13. Lucas Ayala (Argentina) (2009)
14. Damián Álvarez (Argentina) (2012-2013)
15. Christian Giménez (Argentina) (2013)