With new faces, Mexico arrives at Copa America looking for a fresh start

MEXICO CITY (AP) — After suffering yet another defeat against the United States, Jaime Lozano knew he needed to change something or he would soon be the one changing jobs. So, the coach of the Mexican team did what many begged him to do: he gave other players a chance.

With a renewed cast and with the notable absences of Guillermo Ochoa, Hirving Lozano and Raúl Jiménez, Mexico will arrive at the Copa América 2024 looking for a fresh start after disappointing performances in the last World Cup and in the CONCACAF Nations League.

Eighteen months ago in Qatar, the Mexicans had their worst showing in a World Cup since 1978, when they were eliminated in the first round. Then, a couple of months ago, they lost to the United States in the CONCACAF’s Nations League final.

Lozano, the second coach at the helm after Qatar, where Argentine Gerardo Martino was in charge, won last year’s Gold Cup tournament in which the United States and Canada sent alternate squads, but after that the team had subpar performances against Honduras in the quarterfinals of the Nations League and then in the final against the Americans.

Lozano knew he was on the hot seat, so he decided it was time to leave some veterans off the team, like Ochoa, who helped him land the job as manager while being his vocal supporter after winning the Gold Cup.

“It is more important to think about the process than a result, we don’t want any speculation with people who are not coming (to the tournament), everyone is aware of the reason for bringing new people,” said Lozano, who added that he personally spoke with Ochoa, Lozano and Jiménez, in addition to Henry Martín, a starter in Qatar 2022, who was also relegated.

The defeat against the Americans was tough because Mexico has ceded control of CONCACAF, an area where they dominated for years and where now El Tri has not been able to beat its northern neighbor since September 2019, a streak of seven games.

With the decision to give younger players a chance, Lozano silenced voices that called on him to make changes, even though the coach was reluctant to make a generational change. Eight of the 11 starters in the final against the United States played in the last World Cup match against Saudi Arabia.

“I am excited and grateful for the trust of management and their support for my decision to build something apart from what we have, and I am grateful to the people who will not be in the team. Those players who will not be here, and usually are, have shown support and have accepted the move,” the coach said.

Lozano said that despite going to Copa America with a team in which youth predominates, the expectations are the same, but it remains to be seen how quickly the new players adapt to his system.

“Time goes by and there are new generations that are pushing hard and are hungry for a chance to play,” said former team player Rafael Marquez. “The coach is young and the Copa America will be a parameter to see how is the team looking forward to the 2026 World Cup."

Mexico will open the Copa América against Jamaica on June 22, then will face Venezuela and close the first round against Ecuador.

According to Duilio Davino, director of national teams, no matter what happens in the continental tournament, Lozano will remain on the bench until the end of the 2026 World Cup.

“It is difficult to work in the short, medium and long term if every time you lose a match you ask for a coaching change,” said Davino. “The project does not end in the Copa América or Gold Cup, we will make an analysis at the end of the 2026 World Cup.”

For the Mexicans, it will be their 11th time in a Copa América tournament and the first one since the Centenario in 2016, when they suffered their worst loss ever by falling 7-0 to Chile in the quarterfinals.

Mexico’s best result has been two runner-up finishes in 1993 and 2001.


AP Copa America coverage:

Carlos Rodriguez, The Associated Press