By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (June 8, 2022) US Soccer Players – After getting an early start with a 2-1 win over Nigeria on May 28, Mexico faced two CONMEBOL teams in international friendlies. El Tri was no match for Uruguay on June 2, losing 3-0 in Glendale, Arizona. They played out a scoreless draw against Ecuador on Sunday in Chicago. Concacaf teams will now turn their attention to the Nations League. For Mexico, that means games against Suriname and Jamaica.
What any of these games might mean in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup is the question lots of teams are asking. Mexico choosing to rework its squad in advance of the Nations League takes at least some of the focus off of World Cup group C, where they’ll play Poland, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia later this year. However, any version of Mexico struggling now is going to raise questions.
Player selection is certainly an issue. While it’s certainly not a new talking point, that normally puts the focus on Major League Soccer. That league is home to players who, over the last decade-plus, have had success with Mexico and represented the country in multiple World Cups. The same MLS-based Mexican internationals left off of recent national team rosters are the same players who would add instant stability and leadership. Players like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Carlos Salcedo have played for Mexico for many years and in many competitions. They might represent the answer to El Tri’s current problems.
Mexico and MLS have had quite a bit of overlap and history since the league began play in 1996. Mexican internationals have called MLS home since the start. Players like Jorge Campos and Hugo Sanchez joined the league in its first season. Mexico has also featured MLS-based players in every World Cup since 1998, with the likes of Campos, Luis Hernandez, Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Dos Santos competing for Mexico while playing in MLS.
With MLS the strongest it’s ever been, it would be surprising if they don’t contribute to Mexico’s World Cup squad. Hector Herrera will join the Houston Dynamo when the summer transfer window opens next month. Herrera has spent the last nine years playing in Europe, first with Porto and then with Atletico Madrid, and will attempt to keep his place with El Tri as a member of the Dynamo.
Mexico’s roster adjustments for its Nations League games added Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa and kept LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo. They were closer to full strength against Uruguay and Ecuador, calling in its top players like Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton), Jesus “Tecatito” Corona (Sevilla) and Andres Guardado (Betis). Not included in either version of the roster were the likes of the Galaxy’s Hernandez, Toronto FC’s Salcedo, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.
What if Hernandez and Vela stayed in Europe instead of joining MLS in 2018 and 2020, respectively? It is difficult to say. Both players are over 30, but they also have plenty to give. Maybe staying in Europe would’ve meant more to Mexico’s technical staff, but it becomes very difficult to downplay their performances in Major League Soccer.
Two of Mexico’s first-choice players are in similar situations in Europe. Hirving Lozano is one of Mexico’s great hopes for finding success at the World Cup. Lozano did play in 30 matches for Napoli during the 2021-22 season, but he scored just five goals, good for sixth on the team. He played 90 minutes just twice and logged 1,621 minutes out of a possible 3,060.
Corona, meanwhile, made a winter move from Porto to Sevilla for just under $4m. Sevilla had made a much more lucrative offer last summer, reportedly four times as much, but Porto rejected the deal. Still, the Portuguese side opted to move Corona in January instead of having him leave on a free transfer this summer. With Sevilla, Corona played 18 games and scored twice, both goals coming in the same game, playing 90 minutes three times.
Hernandez and Vela have each scored six goals in MLS this season. Of course, defenses in Italy and Spain are likely tougher than the ones the Galaxy and LAFC have faced, but scoring goals and being in a rhythm are important to forwards. Hernandez and Vela might not start over Lozano and Corona or Jimenez but having the two players as an option off the bench is not an outrageous proposition.
Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino won MLS Cup with Atlanta, showing that he fully understands the league. His roster decisions may or may not be telling us anything other than who he believes will give his squad the best chance to win games. That adds to the pressure when it isn’t producing results. When big-name players are left out, it’s tough not to notice that they have the same league in common.
With only a few match days left before the start of the 2022 World Cup, it’s going to be difficult to experiment or rework rosters. What Mexico’s leadership needs to avoid is an obvious talking point. Success without the MLS contingent of players makes that a non-issue. Failure, and we could be hearing about the 2022 roster decisions for a long time.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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