Commentary

No Vela, no Chicharito for Tata's El Tri: No surprise

If it wasn't apparent before, Gerardo "Tata" Martino made it explicit Tuesday evening: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Carlos Vela, the biggest stars on Southern California's Major League Soccer sides, are not going to Qatar.

Surprise? Uh, no.

Vela, in terrific form as Los Angeles FC chases a second Supporters' Shield, has repeatedly said he's not interested in playing again for Mexico's national team. Hernandez, eighth in MLS with 15 goals for postseason hopeful LA Galaxy, isn't on the roster for El Tri's last two World Cup preparation matches -- Saturday against Peru at the Rose Bowl and next Tuesday against Colombia at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara -- before Martino takes his team to Europe a couple of weeks before its Group C opener Nov. 22 against Poland.
 
Hernandez, unlike Vela, has said he's open to an invitation to toil again for Mexico, and speculation in the Mexican media and among El Tri's fans -- not necessarily grounded in reality -- had Martino considering the national team's all-time goals leader after Sevilla's Jesus Manuel Corona broke his leg and suffered ankle ligament damage in training last month, injuries that won't be healed in time for the World Cup.
 
Vela, too, was a potential addition, according to a narrative fueled by concerns over Mexico's attacking struggles and lagging form over the past year or two. El Tri needs talented, in-form forwards, and Hernandez and Vela, even in or approaching their mid-30s, remain two of the country's best.
 
Martino quashed such speculation at Tuesday's El Tri media day at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Galaxy's home.
 
"In the case of Carlos Vela, three and a half years ago he informed us that he did not wish to be called up to the national team, so that's the situation with him," Martino said in a press conference that opened the event. " And in the case of Javier, as I've been saying all along, I've decided to go with other forwards."
 
Martino has called in Wolves' Raul Jimenez, Napoli's Hirving Lozano, America's Henry Martin, Monterrey's Rogelio Funes Mori, Cruz Azul's Uriel Antuna, Guadalajara's Alexis Vega and Feyenoord's Santiago Gimenez for the California matches, although Jimenez, who made the trek to Los Angeles, is unlikely to play after missing his club's last two English Premier League matches with a groin strain.
 
Guadalajara's Angel Zaldivar and Santos' Eduardo Aguirre were called up for Mexico's Liga MX squad that lost, 1-0, to Paraguay on Aug. 31 in Atlanta. Aguirre made an appearance off the bench.


 
Martino must submit his roster for Qatar by Nov. 13, four days after El Tri's friendly against Iraq in Girona, Spain. Mexico's final preparation match is Nov. 16 against Sweden in Girona.
 
Hernandez, who scored in the past three World Cups, last played for Mexico on Sept. 6, 2019, netting the first goal in a 3-0 friendly triumph over the United States. in East Rutherford, N.J. His absence reportedly stemmed from his role in a postgame party -- not his first run-in with Federacion Mexicana de Futbol officials -- held in violation of team rules and refusal to acknowledge and apologize for the transgression.
 
Hernandez, 34, has scored 52 goals in 109 appearances for Mexico, and his ability in the box might have been valuable for a team that hit the net just 17 times in 14 World Cup qualifiers, 12 of them in six games with the three lowest finishers, Jamaica, El Salvador and Honduras, which combined for a 4-25-13 record in the decisive third round of Concacaf qualifying. El Tri scored no more than one goal in any of its other eight games while posting a 2-2-4 record and have been held scoreless in seven of 13 matches in 2022.
 
Vela, 33, who has 11 goals and 11 assists for LAFC, played in the 2010 and 2018 World Cups but has repeatedly declined invitations for various reasons since 2011 and hasn't been with the team since Russia four years ago. Unsourced reports earlier this year had Vela considering a return if Martino would relax team discipline, an unlikely occurrence.
 
The wing-forward, who scored 19 times while winning 72 caps, never said so publicly and in February told ESPN that his door to returning to El Tri was "closed."
 
"I had my chances. I played two World Cups," he said. "I think it's the only way to improve [Mexico], when you leave the chance to other guys and try to make them get that pressure, get that level."

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