Juan Carlos Osorio: “I have the ability to realize and to take full responsibility but better yet, to learn a lot from that defeat.” (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — For most coaches, winding up on the short end of a 7-0 defeat in a highly regarded competition such as Copa America Centenario would mean immediate dismissal from his job.
But Juan Carlos Osorio was fortunate, he was spared a coaching execution by the sack-happy Mexican Football Federation, even though he offered his resignation after the stunning defeat to Chile in the quarterfinals of the 2016 competition.
Incredibly, he was allowed to keep his job, before the former Red Bulls head coach embarked a soul-searching journey, thinking, reading and meeting with other coaches and individual who had endured “great defeats.” Osorio wound up turning one of the most humbling times in his coaching career into a learning experience.
In fact, Osorio felt that he is a better coach for what transpired at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. last June 18.
“I have the ability to realize and to take full responsibility but better yet, to learn a lot from that defeat,” he said in April
No one saw it coming. Seventeen days prior, El Tri had defeated that same Chilean side in an international friendly, 1-0.
“The first half they were better than us,” said Osorio, whose El Tri will meet the Republic of Ireland at MetLife Stadium in a World Cup qualifying warm-up Thursday night. “In the second half, we completely dominated the game and we won, one-nil with a Chicharito, Javier Hernandez goal. So, I thought we could compete, talent for talent. Fair enough.”
Then came the 7-0 disaster, which turned out to be the lone loss of Osorio’s Mexican 20-match coaching career.
“When that happened, I told my bosses, I voluntarily, if there was a problem, I can get out of the job, no problem,” Osorio said. “I am there still to make history really to … transcend with this group of players, not for anything else.”
Osorio went through a process that can be compared to grieving after one losses a loved one. He grieved and eventually came to terms with it by learning from others and eventually learning about himself.
“I did something that very few do. I went for almost 50 days without sleeping, thinking about it and trying to overcome the loss,” said Osorio, who was in the city to help promote the Mexico-Ireland international friendly at MetLife Stadium June 1. “I went to get professional help, not a psychiatrist, no; professional help from people who have had great defeats.”
Osorio mentioned former Argentine and Chile national coach Marcelo Bielsa. “Top of the line,” he said.
The former Staten Island Vipers assistant coach said he spent five days with Bielsa, “exchanging ideas, confronting ways of thinking and how to overcome that.”
Then he turned to the late Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, known for his poetry and as a philosopher, whom Osorio called “one of the best Argentine writers of all time.”
“He is as big as any American and he writes that the defeat has the humility that the noise of victory doesn’t know, doesn’t deserve.”
Osorio had the tools to take some giant steps.
“After 50 days, I came to great conclusions,” he said.
“From that point on, I said to myself, ‘I am going to learn from this defeat because up to the point I never thought I could lose for more than four goals. Now I know. That’s that i refer to that as an accident.”
Osorio made an 80-minute presentation to the Mexican national team on how to overcome the defeat.
“The first thing is I had to recreate it — as a matter of fact — the way I did it, I wrote an English word — Read,” he said.
“Recreate, ‘entendido,’ which is [Spanish for] understood. If do those two, then you learn from that. A, accept and d, digest.”
Osorio analyzed the game thoroughly, even comparing it to another well-known result involving seven goals for the winning side — 2014 world champion Germany’s 7-1 demolition of host Brazil in that same World Cup.
“I took the segment between the minute 22 to the 30th minute of the first half between Brazil-Germany and compared to the segment between the 44th minute to 52nd where we conceded three goals and tried to identify similar things in there and we did,” he said. “Now we have a contingency plan. If that ever happened again, this is what we have to do.”
To put things in a nutshell, Mexico has been unbeaten since then. El Tri cracked the dos a cero code and jinx in Columbus, Ohio with an 11th-hour victory, 2-1, thanks to a goal by former Red Bulls defender-midfielder Rafa Marquez. The Mexicans lead the hexagonal with a 3-0-1 record, surrendering only one goal.
“So, by me doing that, nowadays I can say I am a very, very better manager, a better coach and a very strong man to understand that that can happen again,” Osorio said. “That’s what happens with accidents. People do not like to accept the mistakes, then they think it will never happen. Now I know it can happen.”
As prepared as Osorio is as a coach — he also very well known for the little notebook in which he takes notes during a match — he has a back-up plan, just in case the match goes awry.
“That’s why now I prepare even to more details of the games,” he said. “I have Plan A, Plan B as I used to have and now we have Plan C because that can happen again. I would realize that would start happening. That game, I never realized until the point we were 0-4 down and that was too late to react. At 0-2, you can react and maybe at 0-3 you still can react; 0-4 there is no reaction to that.”