By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jun 9, 2021) US Soccer Players – When the Mexican national team played the US in the Concacaf Nations League final on Sunday, it may have seemed natural that the LA Galaxy and LAFC’s biggest name attacking players would be in the El Tri squad. For good reasons too.
Carlos Vela, a former MLS Most Valuable Player, is one of the most talented players in the league. Despite a checkered history with the Mexican national team, he remains a valuable asset because of his skill and experience. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, meanwhile, has taken MLS by storm this year, leading the league in goals with seven. He’s also scored the most goals in Mexican national team history with 52.
A talented playmaker and a cold-blooded sniper are certainly valuable assets for any national team. However, El Tri coach Tata Martino opted to go in a different direction. His roster did feature a Galaxy player, but that was midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos, a fine player who does not carry the star power of Vela or Hernandez.
In previous years, having a renowned Mexican international who is getting left off national team rosters may have been a negative mark. Even Claudio Suarez, for instance, was getting call-ups at the age of 38 while playing in MLS. Both MLS and the Mexican national team have evolved. It’s reached the point where players like Vela and Hernandez not playing for their national team isn’t as big of a story.
Their value to MLS clubs is without question and carries with it an appropriate price tag. They represent an obvious selling point for markets with large El Tri fan bases, forming a link between club and national team. Given the type of players we’re describing, that holds even when they aren’t playing for the national team. It’s something MLS learned early and remains true, especially in the Los Angeles market.
Mexico internationals and LA soccer will forever be intertwined. With the large Mexican population in Southern California, it seems unfathomable that either the Galaxy or LAFC would ignore Mexican soccer talent. Except for a brief run by the Galaxy around 2007, Mexican internationals have always populated local MLS rosters. The likes of Jorge Campos, Carlos Hermosillo, and Luis Hernandez gave way to Ramon Ramirez, Francisco Palencia. Now, it’s Vela, Chicharito, and Dos Santos calling Los Angeles home.
Throughout the years, though, it was automatic that players like Campos and “El Matador” Hernandez would get called into El Tri for important games. That meant losing players whenever MLS played through an international break, part of the price of acquiring those players. Having them around for 75-80% of the season was better than not having them on the roster.
Now, Vela and Chicharito are both here 100% of the time but are probably at a higher level than their predecessors were when they played in Los Angeles. MLS alone did not keep those players off the roster. Whatever some in the Mexico fan base may think of Major League Soccer, it’s no longer the same competitive issue. In fact, Mexico’s roster featured Dos Santos, Alan Pulido (Sporting KC), and Rodolfo Pizarro (Inter Miami). Those players are younger, and the competition for the spots that Vela and Hernandez fill is tougher. Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Hirving “Chuky” Lozano are more than capable players.
Maybe now wasn’t the time for open competition in camp. Regardless, it’s a bonus for the two MLS teams as they try to play their way into contention in the West. MLS no longer plays through all of the breaks, taking off for the Nations League. Vela and Hernandez not only didn’t miss any games, they got time off. Less time with the national team means less high-intensity international training sessions, fewer international games, and less travel. For this summer, that could mean cutting out more than ten extra games.
Though their place in the national team is no longer guaranteed, Vela and Chicharito maintain their elite status with their club sides. They have quite a bit of pull with the younger generation, something that could benefit MLS. It can help the younger players consider MLS as an option now or down the road. Vela and Hernandez have certainly increased the level of play at LAFC and the Galaxy. All that does is help the league gain respect.
It also increases the level of familiarity between the two biggest leagues in Concacaf. Scheduling games like the just-announced All-Star matchup with Liga MX and the Leagues Cup is a step, but so is playing together in the same domestic league. Figuring out how to stop talents like Vela and Chicharito could prove beneficial at the international level where any edge is worth having.
Consider Vela on form and what Chicharito has already done this season. Tata Martino’s decisions are, at best, tactical. It reflects more on his thinking than the players themselves. Coach’s prerogative will always be the deciding vote, but both are doing enough to merit serious consideration in the fall. For now, they’re showing how crucial they are to MLS clubs that we already know struggle without them.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno:
- MLS Power Rankings: Seattle stays put, New England moves up the table
- LAFC without and with Carlos Vela
- Seattle is already on the brink of dynasty status
- MLS Power Rankings: Eastern dominance
Photo by Tim Bouwer – ISIPhotos.com