By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (May 30, 2018) US Soccer Players - When Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio pares down Mexico’s World Cup roster from 28 to the final 23, there are some names already cemented in stone. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Hector Moreno. Hector Herrera.
Giovani Dos Santos used to be one of those names. Dos Santos has a grand trajectory at both club and international levels and has scored some important goals for El Tri. However, his star has fallen off drastically. Days away from Osorio’s submission of the final roster, Dos Santos is a player who has as many detractors as any other on Mexico’s World Cup roster.
Even Osorio admitted that the shine is off the once-and-future king of Mexican soccer. “Giovani is the ‘crack’ that never was,” Osorio said at a press conference while the team was in Los Angeles a week ago.
For all the reasons Dos Santos’ naysayers offer - lack of form, lack of playing time, little production at the club level - there are just as many reasons why Osorio should lack him up and book his passage to Russia.
Experience matters and Dos Santos has plenty of it. When the game gets tight and meaningful - a stage that most World Cup matches will probably attain - there is something to be said for experience. Current form matters, sure. So does knowing what it takes to perform at the highest level.
Dos Santos has appeared in two World Cups, one U-20 World Cup, and one U-17 World Cup, the last of which was his coming-out party. Dos Santos scored six goals as Mexico won the 2005 U-17 World Cup in Peru, an accomplishment that led many to believe that Dos Santos would be Mexico’s next big superstar, a ‘crack’ or legend. He played in all four of Mexico’s games at the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2014 edition.
His goal against the Netherlands in the 2014 Round of 16 was historic. Mexico has exited in the first knockout round match in every World Cup since 1994. In those six games, Mexico has led three times. The authors of those goals were Luis Hernandez (in 1998 against Germany), Rafael Marquez (in 2006 against Argentina) and Dos Santos. That is rarified air for Mexican footballers. Too often, Mexican players have not been able to perform at that stage, but Dos Santos did just that. He rifled a left-footed shot from 25 yards out with two defenders on him.
The goal gave Mexico a lead that stood for 40 minutes. Then the Dutch put two late goals into the back of the net to send Mexico home after four games yet again.
If Mexico has any hopes of reaching a fifth game at the World Cup, there will be many nervy moments in June and July. Mexico face a difficult group, with Germany, South Korea, and Sweden awaiting them in Russia. El Tri also faces historical obstacles as well. Mexico has never beaten a European rival in a European World Cup. Geographically, Russia is more Asia than Europe, but Russia is a part of UEFA which means this is a European World Cup.
Which players are going to be able to perform on the greatest stage with all the pressure facing them? Dos Santos has risen to the challenge before. Is Osorio counting on Carlos Vela or “Chicharito” Hernandez to come through in the clutch? Is he perhaps banking on veteran Oribe Peralta to rise to the challenge, or perhaps expecting that from youngsters Jesus “Tecatito” Corona or Hirving “Chuky” Lozano?
Dos Santos has already proven he can rise to the challenge. Aside from his goal against the Netherlands four summers ago, Dos Santos has scored six goals in 15 Gold Cup games, helping Mexico win all three of the tournaments he has participated in. He also scored three goals in five games during the 2012 Summer Olympics, helping Mexico win a gold medal in London.
Based on current form, the player least likely to contribute a key goal would be Dos Santos. After all, he has played sparingly for the Galaxy this season, appearing in six of the club’s 12 games and contributing two goals. From the start of the 2017 season, Dos Santos has played in 31 total league games and has scored eight goals. To contrast that, Vela has scored seven goals in 12 games in the same league this season.
Also, Dos Santos does not seem to have a defined role for the Galaxy. He is not truly a striker as Ola Kamara and Zlatan Ibrahimovic fill those roles. He is not a pure winger but does not stay centrally behind the forwards either. Dos Santos seems to float around a lot in games and as such seems to get lost. He only has four assists since the start of last year, although in 2016 he had 14 goals and 12 assists in what now seems like an aberration.
Perhaps his biggest obstacle is health. Dos Santos’s hamstring has given him problems this season. He only played 15 minutes in his last game with the Galaxy, a 1-0 win over San Jose on May 25. He has only played 90 minutes once this season.
It seems difficult for anyone to parlay those statistics into a spot on Mexico’s World Cup roster or any team’s World Cup roster for that matter. Certainly, those are not ‘crack’-like numbers.
Still, there was that moment of brilliance in Brazil. And that sustained brilliance in London. And timely goals across the US in Gold Cups.
If Mexico needs a goal against Brazil in a potential Round of 16 match-up, Osorio could do a lot worse than to turn to Dos Santos. History and experience matter at the World Cup. So does Dos Santos for Mexico.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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(Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com)