Piojo has Mexicans dreaming of el quinto partido


Miguel Herrera, right, celebrates a Mexican goal against Croatia and runs to hug goalkeeper Paco Memo Ochoa. (Internet)

Miguel Herrera, right, celebrates a Mexican goal against Croatia and runs to hug goalkeeper Paco Memo Ochoa. (Internet)

It doesn’t matter what happens today between Holanda y México in their round of 16 playoff match in Fortaleza, Brazil, because by now all mexicanos know that Miguel ‘Piojo’ Herrera has to be el Mexicano del Año.

Beyond his gifable sideline histrionics that we got used to when he coached América in Liga MX, we mexicanos cannot give credit to the amazing futbol his Tri is playing.

This México versión Brasil 2014 is so fine-tuned that I doubt it would tie scoreless with Panamá or lose 2-1 to Honduras in the Concacaf qualifying tourney, con todo respeto caballeros.

El Piojo’s Tri has managed to keep that awful eliminatoria all in the past now. With the viral fame of his charming persona, Herrera is doing hella good for el futbol mexicano y la gente está contenta con esa happiness that only stays for a month every four years.

Herrera is the ideal National Coach. He seems honest in what he says and in his manners. He speaks like the people. He celebrates like the people. And the people love him because he turned México into a serious contendiente in this Mundial.

He is not only charismatic but futbol smart también. He understands that futbol is about seizing up opportunities and that you have to motivate your players even when you’re not talking to them.

It has worked. México has only allowed one goal in the tournament and its keeper, Paco Memo Ochoa, landed in the rumor bin of big European teams after his amazing performance against host and favorite Brazil.

Pero no todo is joy and confidence. Herrera is also taking us for a painful ride we Mexicans of a certain age know all too well.

By leading al Equipo Tricolor into la segunda ronda del Mundial, Herrera landed us right into the territory where we will face our World Cup history. The Mexican debacle always takes place en la segunda ronda, los octavos de final, el round of 16.

For us Mexicanos that grew up watching the colorful and spectacular goalie Jorge ‘Brody’ Campos save México’s ass in the 90’s, el cuarto partido is the insurmountable wall against which the Mexican dreams of futbol glory shatter in a diverse array of demoralizing episodes every four years.

And when Miguel ‘Piojo’ Herrera walks today onto the field of Estádio Castelão, in Fortaleza, he will be entering the same stage in which the last four national coaches prior to him have performed only to fail in their quest to get beyond the fourth game in the last five world cups.

We have lost in the round of 16 in every way you can imagine: from missing shots in a penalty shootout against Bulgaria, to the Germans coming from behind to beat you, to Argentina knocking you out twice in a row, to a simple ass whooping by your most hated enemy, the USA.

There is no drama, no painful and ridiculous agony, we Mexicanos haven’t endured en el cuarto partido del Mundial. Probably because I think we’re due for win and probably because I want to believe too much in his story, but el Piojo—¡pinche Piojo, güey!—seems to have what his predecessors lacked, an aura that shields him from los fantasmas del futbol mexicano.

As a player, Herrera was spared from going through a defeat in el cuarto partido. He was cut from the Mexican roster for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

He felt betrayed. He thought his frequent caps with the national team, including the second-place-México in Copa América 93 and the one with successful run in the qualifying tournament, had earned him a spot in el Tri set to reappear en el Mundial after a Fifa-imposed veto kept the country away for Italia 1990.

El Piojo still resents Miguel Mejía Barón, the national coach in 94, for not giving him the chance to play en un mundial. In an interview with a Mexican newspaper when he was still coaching América, Herrera lashed out against him.

It was also during his time in América that his signature coaching style finally won him a championship. In the Clausura 2013 Championship game, his Águilas came from behind to tie Cruz Azul with a diving header in the last minute by none other that his goalie, Moisés Muñoz.

With good futbol and lots of heart, América snatched from La Máquina’s hands el campeonato and El Piojo became a sensation thanks to his effusive festejos. When México needed somebody to save the country from the abyss of not qualifying to the World Cup in Brazil, Mexican futbol officials turned to him because it seemed he could perform miracles.

Second chances come in strange wrappings. El Piojo could’ve been part of that first generation that cried after the penalty shootout against Bulgaria in 94. Instead, he’s the man leading this motley crew that had nobody’s hopes eight months ago into a date with destiny that could turn the page a la historia de la Selección Mexicana and finally make it to el quinto partido.

I doubt anybody imagined that 20 years after Herrera was cut from the World Cup roster he would be el entrenador de México in the round of 16 set to face not only the Netherlands but a su pasado en las copas del mundo at noon EST. And it is precisely the good futbol and the heart what has México dreaming big.

I have enjoyed la selección del El Piojo in this world cup. That is why it doesn’t matter if México can’t make it to el quinto partido as long as they play like they’ve done so far in this World Cup. And El Piojo Herrera must be el Mexicano del Año anyways because at least he made la gente dream and celebrate when our country is nothing but a growing nightmare.

About Gustavo Martínez Contreras

was born in Texas, brewed in Mexico City, seasoned in the Mexico-United States border, aged walking the streets of Philadelphia. He had a short-lived stint eating grits, fried chicken, and peaches in Atlanta. He later became a béisbol writer for El Diario de Nueva York. He has written about immigrant communities in English, Spanish, and some Spanglish. Although he does not have a shelf full of awards, Gustavo has received thank you notes and hugs from people who have trusted him with their stories. His work has appeared in Voices of New York, El Diario/La Prensa, Dallas’ Al Día, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Weekly, Radio Bilingüe, Latina Lista, Spot.us, among others. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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