ARLINGTON, Texas – It wouldn’t be a José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre press conference these days if there weren't some animosity.
The embattled Mexican head coach and the roving band of reporters that follow his every move seem to be at odds every time Chepo takes a seat at a podium or has a microphone stuck in his face. Considering El Tri haven't exactly lived up to their lofty regional reputation during this Gold Cup or during Hexagonal play, the press has plenty of ammunition in their arsenal.
Ahead of Mexico’s semifinal matchup with Panama on Wednesday night (10 pm ET, FOX Soccer, UniMas, Univision Deportes), their main bone to pick was Chepo’s previous claim that World Cup qualifying was the priority, not Gold Cup glory.
What now, though, since El Tri are in position to perhaps raise a morale-boosting trophy?
"We made our objectives very clear from the beginning of this process,” Chepo told a packed room on Tuesday night at Cowboys Stadium. “The main objective is to qualify for the World Cup, but in the process there are partial objectives, like the Gold Cup two years ago, the Confederations Cup, the Pan American Games.
“Within this objective, we also have this Gold Cup in mind. Right now we have completely forgotten the Hexagonal, and are focused entirely on Gold Cup. You cannot be thinking elsewhere if you're here.”
Adding to the pressure surrounding the Mexican team is the fact that Panama, who pulled off a 2-1 upset in both team’s group-stage opener, stand in their way en route to the final in Chicago on July 28.
Only this time, Los Canaleros have their goalscoring talisman in the fold.
Blas Pérez likely watched enviously as his teammates celebrated at the Rose Bowl back on July 7. This time around, he’ll get an opportunity to heap even more pressure on Chepo and his charges, even if the Mexico boss doesn’t seem especially concerned about SuperRaton’s presence.
"Blas is a player that has been a hallmark within the national team. There is no more change to the match, except that he's going to be there this time,” Chepo said. “We have seen their games and their approach remains very similar, but with [Gabriel] Torres, he gets along and they know each other very well. If they have Blas or any other player, they do not change much."
The hope on the Mexican side is that the group-stage result changes to favor El Tri, setting up a potential final against the US, one in which a victory could give Chepo some much-needed political capital ahead of the next round of World Cup qualifiers in September.
They’ll have to find a way to shed their recently dreadful form in front of goal to have any chance at that, though. Despite dominating play against Trinidad & Tobago in the quarterfinals, the final pass and the final touch were lacking until Raúl Jiménez rescued Mexico with six minutes remaining.
Rest assured, Chepo said, they’re working on it.
"We've been focused on our problems rather than in those of others,” he insisted. “We look at our rivals when we have to face them, and we get as much information as possible from them to find a way to win."