Gold Cup champions Mexico must put trust in Lozano as coach

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It was supposed to only be a summer fling. When Mexico's men's national team dropped former coach Diego Cocca in late June, they turned toward a young suitor in the form of 44-year-old Jaime "Jimmy" Lozano, an unattached manager who was temporarily hired for the Concacaf Gold Cup.

Lozano's presence (and contract) was set to be short-lived and finished once the tournament ended, but as is often the case in these relationships, serious feelings can begin to develop and get in the way of initial plans.

Mexican soccer fans and media, most notably, soon became enamored with a coach who immediately excelled at the Gold Cup. Tired of watching unimaginative approaches from the last two managers -- Cocca and Gerardo "Tata" Martino -- El Tri suddenly looked entertaining and attack-minded. Mexico were proactive, not reactive, and weren't afraid to pressure opponents.

With morale low after a lack of silverware from their last four major tournaments, which included a dismal group stage exit from the 2022 World Cup, Lozano brought back optimism with an impressive run at the Gold Cup. Through four wins in their first five matches and 12 goals scored, El Tri sprinted into Sunday's final with an immense amount of momentum.

And ahead of that game, the question wasn't only if Mexico could reclaim regional Concacaf respect with a much-needed trophy, but also if Lozano should continue his partnership with Mexico.

The manager, to his credit, remained focused about the short-term, at first. "I arrived for a Gold Cup; that's what's in my mind," the coach said after the 3-0 semifinal win vs. Jamaica last week.

That scripted answer was one that the manager consistently gave throughout the tournament. No matter the result, when asked about his thoughts on taking the permanent gig or winning over his bosses at the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), Lozano would typically circle back to focusing on the next game, the next opponents.

But something changed on Sunday's Gold Cup final at a sold-out SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

In a celebratory atmosphere that had 72,963 in attendance -- more than the 70,048 at the venue last year for Super Bowl LVI -- Mexico would go on to earn a hard-fought but well-deserved 1-0 win over Panama in the championship game. A late second-half goal, scored by Feyenoord star striker Santiago Gimenez, eventually sent the heavy pro-Mexico crowd into a frenzy.

"Today the atmosphere was like a World Cup, it wasn't like a Gold Cup," Lozano said, beaming after the victory in the post-game press conference. "The truth is that it fills me with joy, with excitement."

He then couldn't help but share his true emotions when asked about his future.

"With these results, they open opportunities," Lozano remarked. "Obviously I would like to be here, obviously it would be a dream to lead my national team in a World Cup, and even more in a [2026] World Cup where we'll be the home side [with the United States and Canada].

"If it's my turn, it's a dream, it's a dream. What I'm experiencing now [as interim] is a dream."

Lozano clearly wants something more serious and long-term with the national team, and although the FMF might think they can get someone much more exciting, the reality is that their summer fling is an ideal fit.

As has been documented plenty since his hiring, Lozano already has a history with a number of Mexico's national team players. Once leading Mexico's U23s to a bronze medal at the 2020 Olympic games, a strong core of 10 players from that competition were involved in the Gold Cup success.

Two of those names, Jorge Sanchez and Carlos Rodriguez, praised the efforts of their manager ahead of the final.

"He's done things in the best manner," Sanchez said. "He's a coach who is very capable, a coach that makes things real simple on the pitch. You already know what's going to happen on the pitch. I think that gives you an essential box of tools. You enter the field a little more confident, a little more calm. For me, that's the best thing about Jaime."

"On the field you see the unity in this squad, this national team," Rodriguez had said. "The technical staff, the players, you see it day by day in the trainings."

Keep in mind, all this progress and the immediate success was done in just a few weeks by Lozano. The roster itself was also already picked before he arrived at the Gold Cup. Given time to develop his process and actually choose his players, it's genuinely thrilling to think of the tactical improvements and developments he can make.

However, that all depends on the possible commitment that Mexico want.

Despite FMF leadership remaining quiet about a managerial decision since El Tri lifted the trophy, their latest statement from last week does indicate that they're softening to the idea of fully bringing in their interim.

"Whatever happens Sunday won't determine the future of Jimmy Lozano," FMF executive president Ivar Sisniega said in a video where he highlighted that Mexico are considering coaching options. "Of course Jimmy should be one of the candidates."

As for Lozano, if Mexico aren't ready, there will be no lack of admirers who will undoubtedly be looking his way now after helping clinch the summer's Gold Cup.

"I signed a contract for the Gold Cup; I believe that starting now I'm free [to sign with anyone]," he said.