Carlos Mendes on Juan Carlos Osorio (above): “He’s a coach that demands a lot from his players and its showing now with Mexico, how organized and how well he’s done. ” (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Carlos Mendes remembers the note taking, during games and even during training. He recalled how organized his former head coach was. And he remembers how intense the Colombian native was.
So, the Cosmos B head coach isn’t surprised that Juan Carlos Osorio has maneuvered Mexico into the Round of 16 in the World Cup. El Tri, which has never reached the quarterfinals outside of World Cups it has hosted (1970 and 1986), takes on highly favored Brazil Monday.
“Having played for him, he’s so passionate. very intense,” Mendes said last week, prior to the Mexicans’ 3-0 loss to Sweden in its group finale. “He’s very tactical. He does his homework. He looks into every game. I’m not surprised. He’s studied the opponents. Mexico has done well. He has a system that’s working.
“He’s a coach that demands a lot from his players and its showing now with Mexico, how organized and how well he’s done. I’m not surprised. They struggled before getting into the tournament. It didn’t seem like he panicked and now the team is responding well.”
In its opening Group F match, Mexico stunned defending world champion Germany with a 1-0 victory. The Mexicans then defeated Korea Republic, 2-1 before the Swedes dismantled them.
Osorio is well-known for taking notes during games, not leaving anything to chance or the possibility of him forgetting about it. During his Red Bulls tenure from 2008-09, Osorio would attend post-game press conferences with several pieces of paper from which he read from or perhaps sentences that stirred his memory on the important talking points from a win, loss or draw.
The Mexican head coach never took notes during practice.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Mendes said with a smile.
“Back then he would take notes,” Mendes said. “He would come to practice prepared. He would have everything laid out. Very organized. I think the coaching and mentality and the coaching style hasn’t changed. Mexico has done an excellent job and a great World Cup and I hope they continue to do well.”
After a rather mediocre regular season in 2008, Osorio directed the Red Bulls on a Cinderella-like run in the playoffs, knocking off two-time defending champion Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference semifinals, which included a 3-0 trouncing in Texas. In a one-shot deal in the conference final, New York shut down favored Real Salt Lake, 1-0, behind a rookie goalkeeper, Danny Cepero, who hadn’t had much pro experience.
The miracle run ended in MLS Cup as Columbus Crew SC won the league title, 3-1. Mendes was a center back on that team.
Off that postseason success, much more was expected of the Red Bulls in 2009, which turned into a nightmare season. Osorio eventually resigned in August as the team seemingly could not do anything right on the field.
He went on to coach Once Caldas and Atletico Nacional (Colombia), Puebla (Mexico) and Sao Paulo (Brazil) before being named Mexico coach in 2015.
During his playing days, Mendes performed for some high-level coaches, including Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena and of course, Osorio.
Asked what he learned from Osorio, the Cosmos B head coach replied, “Just how he could, throughout games easily change systems and have the understanding that if we weren’t doing well or something wasn’t going well in a game, he could change something, whether it was just making an adjustment to the formation, or making subs. Things like that, he was very, very good at.
“I remember at times the games not going your way. There needs to be a change and he was very good in picking up on that. Clearly, he’s still doing a great job.”
On Monday, we’ll see how good a great a job Osorio is doing as El Tri faces its biggest challenge against the five-time World Cup champions.