Osorio's former MLS players say he can take Mexico to World Cup success

They all remember the notebook.

Anyone who played under Mexican national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio will tell you how he always used to jot down notes in his little spiral pad, using a red and blue pen to differentiate attacking players from defenders.

“You can still see him doing it now,” says New York Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec, who played under Osorio with the Red Bulls in 2008 and 2009.

“I never quite got a peek inside of it,” adds Calen Carr, who suited up for him in 2007 when Osorio took over a last-place Chicago Fire team midway through the season and led them into the playoffs.

Osorio writing in his famous notebook during an MLS game. | Courtesy of Chicago Fire

But even though it may have been shrouded in mystery, that notebook was symbolic of Osorio’s meticulous nature during his three-year-run as an MLS head coach. And it’s that nature, some of his old MLS players believe, that can perhaps help Mexico snap a streak of six straight Round of 16 exits at the World Cup.

El Tri open Sunday vs. defending champs Germany, with both sides looking to win Group F to avoid a potential meeting with Brazil in their first knockout game.

“If there is a manager that can get Mexico to finally get over the hurdle,” Carr says, “I think Juan Carlos would be as prepared to get his team as psychologically and physically ready as anybody.”

Carr only played under Osorio for a short period of time in Chicago but nevertheless called him “one of my favorite coaches.” And he credits him for coming in right away and changing the mentality of the group because he knows how to “find a way to get people to really buy into what he’s doing.”

Osorio's meticulous methods in Mexico training | Reuters/Action Images

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin agrees with that sentiment, although he admits Osorio’s style is “unorthodox” and initially came as a “shock to some players.” Curtin was certainly shocked the first time he saw Osorio sleeping in the Fire’s film room.

“His preparation for training sessions was pretty meticulous in terms of setting a cone down to literally the exact inch and being out on the field two hours before a session to make sure everything was up and running and not a minute was wasted,” says Curtin, who was injured during much of that 2007 season in Chicago, allowing him to more closely observe his coach.

“To watch what he’s done with Mexico is not a surprise because he did the same thing in the short time I was around him in Chicago. He’s bold. He doesn’t care what people think and he doesn’t care what the media says. He has his way.”

Osorio certainly has his share of critics with the Mexican fans and media but Curtin thinks that if you look at his 31-9-8 record with El Tri since taking over in late 2015, “not enough people talk about how good of a job he’s done there.”  

He and others also believe the Colombian is uniquely suited to do well in a tournament setting because of how sharp he is at scouting and how unafraid he is to make big adjustments when needed.

“It’s no secret the criticism of Juan Carlos is he changes too much — changes formations, changes players,” Wolyniec says. “I think that comes from him coming at the game from a scouting perspective and reacting and adjusting to the opponent.”

“If you look at his track record, he hasn’t been a lot of places too long,” Carr adds. “I think part of the reason is he comes in fast and he’s passionate and I think there’s something to that in getting the best out of people in a short format.”

Carr also adds that not being Mexican may serve as an advantage because “he’s unburdened by some of the past, and I think he can help the team feel that way as well too.”

Perhaps then, after the World Cup, he may also be in the running for the US national team coaching job?

“I’d back him for it,” Carr says. “I think he checks a lot of boxes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him considered for that position, which would sort of be an interesting wrinkle in the US-Mexico rivalry.”

Osorio on the sidelines with the Red Bulls. | USA Today Sports

Wolyniec agrees that Osorio certainly has the pedigree, work ethic, scouting chops, international experience and MLS background to make him a candidate for the USMNT job. But no matter where the 57-year-old ends up, or if he stays with Mexico, the Red Bulls II coach will continue to look to him as an inspiration, just as he has for the past decade.

“The first thing you notice about Juan Carlos is his seriousness and his passion for the game,” Wolyniec says. “That comes off right away almost before he introduces himself. And that’s infectious.

“He would say players pick up on anything, so if you misplace a cone or say the wrong player's name, they’re going to pick up on that. So that’s why you have to be detailed and meticulous about what you’re doing.

“He’s certainly an example to follow but a model that’s hard to replicate.”

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