Jaime Lozano knows Mexico must win or he’s fired — and he’s fine with that

In the last year, the Mexican national team has suffered through its worst World Cup in 44 years, changed managers twice, elected a new president to head its federation and sacked part of the communications staff. That’s a lot of change in 12 months, especially with next summer’s Copa América quickly approaching and the most important World Cup in more than a generation on the not-too-distant horizon.

Although Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano — the man at the center of that maelstrom, the one appointed to find direction in the dysfunction — doesn’t exactly embrace the chaos, he has embraced the challenge.

“Yes, I am very comfortable,” the manager of Mexico’s national team said in Spanish during a brief visit to Los Angeles last week. “I feel very proud and privileged. It’s a dream.”

One that quickly could become a nightmare.

Diego Cocca, the man Lozano replaced, lasted just seven games — only one of which he lost. But that loss was an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to the U.S. in the Nations League semifinals.

Cocca had replaced Tata Martino, who has the third-most wins in Mexican national team history, but Martino was also the first Mexican manager to fail to get the team out of the World Cup group stage since 1978.

With the former El Tri — last October, a court handed the federation another painful loss when it ruled the team could no longer use its longtime nickname for commercial or referential purposes — it isn’t so much what have you done lately, but what are you doing right now, at this very moment that counts.

Lozano already has learned that lesson. Although he was chosen to lead Mexico in last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup less than a week before the tournament opener, he took the team to the title, part of a seven-game unbeaten streak under his leadership. But the always uneasy honeymoon with the fans ended with last month’s shaky performance against Honduras. Mexico lost the first game then won the second, advancing to the 2024 Nations League final four on penalty kicks.

The manager says he embraces that too.

“I’m getting used to it,” he said with a smile.

“I wouldn’t change it even if there was triple the pressure. [The job] has many responsibilities but also many privileges and many benefits. Grateful is a feeling that I have.”

Lozano, 45, a former national team midfielder, played more than 400 games for five teams during a 15-year career in Mexico’s Liga MX. He came into his new job with far less experience than most recent coaches, however, having managed only 67 games at a top-tier level. He also was passed over for managerial positions he was reportedly considered for with LAFC and the Houston Dynamo.

Mexico players toss coach Jaime Lozano into the air following the team's bronze-medal win over Japan in the Tokyo Olympics.

Mexico players toss coach Jaime Lozano into the air following the team’s bronze-medal win over Japan in the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

“It’s completely terrible, the most terrible approach you could take, because these players need to have those moments when they fall to learn what it takes to get up.”

— Herculez Gomez, ESPN soccer analyst, on Mexico’s soccer federation

In other ways, however, his résumé is perfect. For starters he’s Mexican, and the national team hasn’t had a Mexican-born manager since Miguel Herrera in 2015.

Secondly, after fielding the second-oldest roster in each of the last two World Cups, Mexico desperately needs to get younger and nobody knows the player pool better than Lozano, who coached Mexico’s U-23 team for 2½ years, leading it to a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Lozano is also well-liked and respected by the players he coached at the youth level, 12 of whom were called up for the Honduras games.

But transitioning the roster will take time and patience. Nine of the 23 players called up last month had fewer than 15 international caps, with the three goalkeepers having less than five games of international experience combined.

“Many of the players who went to Honduras were participating in an [international] match for the first time and we go exclusively to the result. We do not see other factors, we do not see other results,” Lozano said. “So it is a process.”

When the U.S. remade its team younger after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, it took its lumps. It also had time though, a luxury denied Lozano.

Mexico will meet Colombia in a Dec. 16 friendly at the L.A. Coliseum, resume Nations League play in March, then open the Copa América in June. With no CONCACAF qualifying ahead of the 2026 World Cup that Mexico will host alongside the U.S. and Canada, the tournament will be the most important Lozano’s team will play in this cycle. Failure is not an option.

“That is a problem. Jimmy Lozano has a bad Copa América, he’s gone,” said ESPN soccer analyst Herculez Gomez, a former U.S. national team forward who played for six teams in Mexico’s Liga MX. “It’s completely terrible, the most terrible approach you could take, because these players need to have those moments when they fall to learn what it takes to get up.

“It’s really a shame because Jimmy Lozano has a lot of good [qualities], but he’s not the problem here. They refused to let the old guard move on. The lack of vision and project here at the Mexican national team and federation is what’s troubling.”

That’s what Lozano inherited when he took the job and what he’s largely powerless to fix.

Mexico coach Jaime Lozano looks on before an international friendly against Australia in September.

Mexico coach Jaime Lozano looks on before an international friendly against Australia in September.

(LM Otero / Associated Press)

“A coach is not going to come in and just change things. I don’t care if it’s Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho. He’s not going to change this pool of Mexican players. He’s not going to change how inept the Mexican federation is,” Gomez said.

“I think he’s bringing back a lot of that joy for the players and a lot of confidence for the fan base. But the coaches aren’t going to change these problems. You have to understand when you talk about the Mexican national team, the Mexican federation, how at odds they are with their own interests.”

That leaves Lozano in an impossible position. As with his predecessors, he could win and still lose, he could succeed and still fail. That’s why the job is both a dream and a nightmare.

“In my position we know that we depend on results,” he said. “It does not matter if you play well, if the results do not come, you will surely not last long.”

For Lozano, the clock is ticking.

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the Corner of the Galaxy podcast.

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