Elias Hernandez made Cruz Azul move at right time

Hector Vivas
Most of the winger's career is behind him, and he has a better chance at another title in Mexico City than he did with former club Leon

Cruz Azul had no mercy.

When putting together the digital assets promoting this week's visit from Leon, there was only one man to include: Elias Hernandez, now proudly displaying the badge with the blue cross rather than the Leon crest he wore over his heart for six years.

"Ah it burns, it hurts," one Leon fan wrote in response. "Don't make me suffer. Why did you have to put Elias Hernandez's photo?" complained another.

Even Hernandez himself seems to be a bit melancholy about seeing his old friends. After forward Mauro Boselli admitted earlier this week that he missed his friend in the attack, Hernandez was asked if he felt the same way. At first, he joked that Boselli missed him more than he missed Boselli, but eventually came clean that he too was looking forward to seeing everyone and missed his teammates and the city.

Even so, he can't be regretting his decision to join Cruz Azul this season. Hernandez was part of a wave of reinforcements brought to the capital by new Cruz Azul sporting director Ricardo Pelaez. Most already had experience in Liga MX, and so far it's a gamble that has paid off. The club sits second in the table, behind Pumas only on goal difference.

Hernandez has been key, scoring in his debut and assisting on two more goals as the club has started with three wins and a draw. Now 30, it was becoming clear that moving to Cruz Azul was his best chance at winning another title - and getting back into the picture for the national team's Gold Cup or Concacaf Nations League pushes in the near future.

While he won two titles with Leon, winning another trophy with the Guanajuato club seemed unlikely.

"I think this has been the club where I've found another type of demands," Hernandez told FSRadio this week. "I'm not saying that in the other teams I've played in there haven't been teammates who have had talent – of course there have been.

"But with the team that has come together, the players who have arrived, I think the team in all positions has two or three players who have great quality and that makes it so the team is working in the way it is."

At Leon, the winger's place was secure. With Cruz Azul, there are players fighting to take Hernandez's place on the left side. Not that there's been any indication manager Pedro Caixinha needs to make a change, but the internal competition is pushing Hernandez to keep his level up and get better.

He'll need that to get back with the national team. Winger is Mexico's deepest position, and there's probably no displacing Hirving Lozano, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Carlos Vela from the outside attacking positions. However, those players may not be all that enthused by coming back across the Atlantic Ocean (or continuing to represent Mexico in Vela's case) for games against Caribbean or Central American opposition. There could be a role for Hernandez to fill for his country, and fighting to keep his place will help him be ready if the call comes from Mexico's next manager.

It's not that Leon was a terrible situation, and the club comes into the weekend with some enthusiasm. A 4-0 win last week over Queretaro has Gustavo Diaz's men confident they can return to the playoffs, and fans of La Fiera will be quick to point out that their club has won two titles since Cruz Azul's last triumph back in 1997. That drought has led Cruz Azul fans to demand seeing their club return to the status of a 'grande'.

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"From the moment I decided to come to the club, I knew the responsibility, the pressure," Hernandez said. "I'm happy with the new challenge. It's gone well for us, and we're hoping to continue on a good path. We've had a good start. The idea is to go game by game, look for qualification (to the Liguilla) as quickly as possible and the team has taken this idea on really well."

His former team coming into the Estadio Azteca will be a chance to remember good times and maybe even see Boselli and other friends for a bite or a beer after the game. On the field, though, Hernandez is in a better situation, one that could see him make an El Tri return and even add to his trophy cabinet.