Carlos Vela, Chicharito, Tecatito Corona and Hector Herrera will all miss out on this summer's competition, and Hirving Lozano is in a fitness race, leaving Tata Martino shorthanded for his first official tournament as Mexico coach.
On Tuesday, Mexico head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino announced his preliminary 29-man squad for this summer’s Gold Cup at a press conference inside the team’s training headquarters. The list, which will be slimmed down to 23 in the next few weeks, had some surprising inclusions, such as the LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna and PSV star Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, whose recent knee injury threatened his participation altogether but may not prevent him from playing after all. But as Martino concluded his roll call one thing became abundantly clear: This presser was less about the names on the list and more about those who were not included.
Carlos Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Hector Herrera, all experienced players who have held key roles for El Tri throughout the years, will not be part of Mexico's Gold Cup plans.
The omissions all come down to specific personal reasons. For Herrera, this wasn’t a huge surprise, as earlier this month the Porto midfielder decided to opt out as a result of the mental and physical demands of a season that took so much out of him.
“I find myself needing to recuperate mentally and physically after a season where I had to play more than 50 games for my club,” he said in a statement. Herrera also said he wants to use this summer as a chance to evaluate his future, as a reported move to Atletico Madrid looms on the horizon.
Hernandez's absence, too, was not unexpected, as Mexico’s all-time leading scorer made a request to be excluded due to the birth of his child, which is slated to occur right in the middle of the tournament.
"From my point of view, it's not good to have a footballer, as important as Javier may be, in a tournament with their head in another place," Martino said in an interview last week.
Then there's Vela, who seems at his happiest with LAFC, both personally and professionally. MLS’s top scorer (12 goals) is enjoying a successful season with his club and does not wish for anything–not even the chance to lift the Gold Cup–to disrupt his momentum.
"I spoke with Carlos Vela over the phone last week, and he assured me that right now his club and his family are his priority, that's why he stepped aside," Martino said during Tuesday’s squad announcement. The Argentine manager also added that he understood this as a life decision and respects the 30-year-old’s wishes.
“Every player has a right to come or not to come,” he said.
Lastly, there’s case of Corona, the talented Porto winger whose rocky relationship with Martino began back in March when he failed to report to the national team during the international break. It was a bizarre situation. Corona, dealing with an ankle injury at the time, was apprehensive about joining the squad, worried he might aggravate it, but Martino spoke to him and said he wanted him there regardless, as it was less about playing time and more about bonding with the squad and getting to know his new manager. It was a fair request, and, according to Martino, Corona first agreed but then backed out and decided to stay with Porto. This obviously did not sit well with the manager, and he promised there would be repercussions in the future. On Tuesday, the manager held to his word.
Martino said he had not spoken to Corona since the incident and after evaluating his options he eventually made the call to leave him out.
One of the biggest pleasures in watching a typical Martino press conference is how he masterfully uses these events to be both diplomatic and honest with his assessments. It’s almost an art to watch him dissect any given situation by showing his personality as both a professional and frustrations as a human being, and this one was no different. After being asked if he thought it was common for players to request to be excluded from the national team, he replied with a slight sense of frustration.
“I don’t think it’s common. I’ve never experienced this before–with Argentina or Paraguay,” Martino said. “A call-up to the national team is a reward for any player, a way to recognize their trajectory and what they’re achieving. And the moment they don’t see it that way it’s more logical that they don’t take part.”
The last sentence of his remark is perhaps the best way to understand Martino’s philosophy and why Mexican fans should perhaps applaud his decision to leave out Corona or any other player who may not be fully committed. Martino, as he said on Tuesday, is not here for the needs of the individual. His job is to address the needs of Mexico, and, most importantly, to re-launch the team’s competitive mentality.
It’s fair to suggest that this squad is deeper and perhaps more talented and can replace players such as Corona, Vela and Hernandez, and there's no denying that. It would also be unfair to blame these players for choosing what’s best for their own career and personal livelihood. But at this point, as Mexico turns a new page, Martino knows that in order to succeed, he needs more than talent. He needs desire.
It’s precisely why Lozano, who is doing what he can to recover, was selected on the preliminary squad, and why the list features hungry, young and eager players such as Monterrey’s Carlos Rodriguez, Chivas's Raul Gudino and Cruz Azul's exciting Roberto Alvarado. In total, 18 players from the roster are based in Liga MX.
Combined with European-based talent such as Raul Jimenez, who had a tremendous season with Wolverhampton Wonderers, veteran defender Hector Moreno and the calming presence of Andres Guardado, Mexico arguably remains the favorite to win the Gold Cup. The mountain may now be harder to climb, but it’s still doable. Mexican fans can find solace in the fact that they have a manager who prioritizes no individual, no matter his reputation, above the needs of the team.