Chepo returns to where it all started -- Atlanta

By Dylan Butler

 ATLANTA – The road to Atlanta and the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals for Jose Manuel de la Torre began in Atlanta.

 It was here “Chepo” made his debut as the Mexican national team manager in a 2-0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Feb. 2011.

 The road over the course of the next 45 games hasn’t been perfectly paved, but now, back at the Georgia Dome, de la Torre is hoping to guide El Tri into the semifinals in Arlington, Texas.

“The work started 2 1/2 years ago, precisely here in Atlanta with a preparation game and we continue to work,” he said prior to training Friday afternoon. “There’s things that change, players that change, new tournaments. There’s been good moments, some not so good moments, but we continue on the same work path in order to achieve the results we want.”

 First, though, Mexico has to get past a Trinidad & Tobago side that is riding high following a 2-0 victory over Honduras in its group stage finale.  That result booked the Soca Warriors’ first berth in the knockout stage in 13 years.

“We know it’s not going to be an easy game. Trinidad has grown the quality of their players, the way they’ve been playing, their skill set, their strength, their height makes it challenging,” de la Torre said. “But we are confident in what we offer and what we’ve been improving on and we know it’s going to be a good exam for us to continue to show improvements.”

This match also allows de la Torre to reunite with an old friend as Leo Beenhakker is serving in an advisory role with the Trinidad & Tobago.  “Chepo” worked with Beenhakker, a native of Rotterdam, Netherlands, at Club America in Liga MX.

“Leo has been an important part of my growth professionally,” de la Torre said. “He’s a friend. When we were both at Club America he was the coach and I was his assistant. He was always very nice. He shared a lot, what he saw and how he saw things in his trainings and the day-to-day.”

Now, though, de la Torre has the highly stressful job of managing Mexico. Constantly under the microscope, the 47-year-old understands the enormous pressure that he faces on a daily basis.

“In Mexico, there’s Catholics, there’s Jewish, there’s all religions and all types of politics,” he said. “But soccer is the majority. The responsibility is very large.”

And that responsibility, he said, is to a rabid, large and traveling fan base, making his job one of the most challenging in all of sports.

 “I don’t know if it’s the most difficult [job] in sports, they’re all very different,” he said. “What I do know the responsibility we do have is especially for the fans, to seek and give them happiness.”

 Nothing would bring more happiness to those fans than if Mexico was to win a third straight Gold Cup title.

 De la Torre’s second-ever victory in Atlanta would bring El Tri one step closer to that goal.

 “As time moves on, you always look to improve,” de la Torre said. “These days have been good to fix details that had not been working well for us and to keep improving.”