These days, when it’s time to call in a team, the FMF seems to make a point of splitting the announcement in two. First comes the mighty “legion extranjera,” followed, as if an afterthought, by the less attention-worthy group of local players to complement the Europe-based stars as roster-fillers.
It plays well to the media, and seemed for a while like a well-earned tribute to the primacy of the Mexican upper crust which had played its way to European shores. But these days, it’s looking more and more like an unfortunate and unnecessary way to split up the team. Much of El Tri’s heavy lifting this cycle may have to be done by locally-based players, because Mexicans in Europe are still having a generally rough go of it.
Of course, the separation of the two groups of calls in reality has a more practical explanation. The FMF has to put in for releases of European players much sooner than local ones, so they have the list of overseas players that much earlier.
For the sake of team unity, though, it might make more sense to wait and release just one list. That might also serve to draw less attention to the troubling difficulty Mexicans are having getting playing time overseas. Despite plenty of publicity and a lot of chest pounding about the growing number of Mexicans in Europe, few have had seasons to call home about.
Of the eight overseas players in El Tri’s list, only Memo Ochoa, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno had truly outstanding campaigns abroad. Javier Hernandez and Maza Rodriguez did well enough, but the high bars they’ve set for themselves dimmed otherwise acceptable performances this season. And while the likes of Gio Dos Santos and Pablo Barrera are once again likely to come in woefully out of game shape, Efrain Juarez’s long layoff at the club level has moved him completely out of contention for El Tri. Even Rafa Marquez’s MLS playing time in New York has been irregular due to constant suspensions and injuries.
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The thought, of course, would be that the uneven form of El Tri’s legionnaires would negatively affect the national team’s performance over the summer. Countries whose stars are inactive in Europe tend to suffer when the national team is brought together.
But history hasn’t borne that pattern out where El Tri is concerned. With the notable exception of Chicharito’s spectacular 2010-11 campaign at Manchester United, many of El Tri’s stars came into the summer of 2011 off similar periods of relatively inactivity at their European clubs. What resulted was the national team’s most convincing summer campaign in years, ending in triumph at the Gold Cup.
One of the stars of that campaign was Barrera, who played less than most of his El Tri teammates at the club level during 2011, but gradually found his form over the summer. Along with the similarly warming Dos Santos, Barrera paced the Mexican attack through much of the Gold Cup, particularly the final.
The challenge this summer for El Tri is considerably more accessible -- qualifiers with Guyana and El Salvador won’t provide the prolonged test that last year’s full tournament did. The Mexicans won’t need to be at their peak, at least not yet, so this period of inactivity for some of its brightest stars overseas has come at a convenient time.
Still, it’s unlikely we’ll see El Tri at its full strength any time soon, and the lull in ultra-competitive action won’t last indefinitely. For El Tri to excel in two years at the World Cup -- and even to qualify comfortably from next year’s hexagonal -- the playing time situation for its stars in Europe simply must improve next season.
The good news is that the European PT game runs in cycles. Players usually manage to find their ways into situations where they can play at the highest appropriate level, and with plenty of summer transfer activity in coming months, the hope will be that Mexican stars in Europe do just that. Most of El Tri’s European contingent has agents working overtime right now looking for the best destinations for their clients. Chepo de la Torre is hoping they succeed.
It’s also crucial that new blood headed to Europe -- and there’s been plenty of speculation of late about which players could be next -- lands in situations where they can get minutes. As much talent as there is in Mexico, El Tri can’t afford to have so many players on the bench at their clubs indefinitely.
In the meantime, as the situation works itself out and in-season FIFA dates with limited preparation time approach in the fall, El Tri may have to gradually turn away from regulars who find themselves benched in Europe. To do that, they’ll call once again on the strength of the home-based contingent.
Given that, it’s high time the domestic contingent was given equal weight by the FMF.