Guardado continues to excel for Betis; 'Chicharito' struggles at West Ham
MEXICO CITY -- Four years ago, Mexico finished the CONCACAF Hexagonal with 11 points and seven goals scored. El Tri had to take part in a playoff match against New Zealand just to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Criticism of Mexico's European legion increased throughout the Hex, mainly because the numbers were poor. Mexico only scored seven goals during the last Hex, and only two of those were scored by a player who was playing in Europe.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez stirred some controversy in the media when he suggested that the group of players playing in Europe wasn't making a difference. At the end of it all, Mexico's European-based players stepped up to the plate in the the last World Cup. Since then, under Juan Carlos Osorio's guidance, the "Europeos" have become the foundation and main voices of the national team.
In Osorio's recent call-up, he included 12 players who ply their trade across the Atlantic. The decision was somewhat surprising because he was expected to give several of the main players, like Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Hernandez and Hector Moreno, a break. But ultimately, Osorio doesn't want to waste time, and looks to train with Mexico's best available players in the upcoming days.
The last week of action for Mexico's European legion included some interesting performances, here's a look back at the Heroes and Villains:
In the 1958-59 season, Real Betis scored 15 goals in their first seven league matches. This season, Betis has scored 14 goals in the same span and Guardado has picked up six assists along the way. His impact on the team has been immediate, and it can be said that he's the best Mexican footballer at the start of the new season. His decision to leave PSV Eindhoven for a La Liga club like Betis, who underwent a serious transformation during the offseason, is paying off. Not only is Guardado becoming one of the most adored players on Betis' current roster, but he's also taking the Spanish league by storm. It's no wonder that he currently leads the league in assists.
Guardado left PSV as an idol, but it's not taking long for another Mexican footballer to fill his shoes. Hirving "Chucky" Lozano is cruising through his first season in Europe. The numbers speak for themselves: six goals in six starts -- including a brace against Willem II Tilburg on Saturday -- plus two assists to add to the stats sheet. Lozano's impressive start to the season is one of the reasons why PSV sit atop of the Eredivisie. At the pace he's going, Lozano might be able to match "Chicharito's" first-year numbers. During his first season in Europe, Hernandez scored 20 goals with Manchester United, and it's looking like Lozano will match or even surpass it.
Before reporting to El Tri's camp, Miguel Layun completed an important week with FC Porto. He scored in a 3-0 Champions League win over Monaco last Tuesday, and on Sunday he started in the crucial visit to Sporting. Of the four Mexicans in the club, he was the only one who played the entire match against their bitter rival. In Sergio Conceicao's Porto, the full-backs get a lot of touches on the ball; once they reach the final third, they become key attackers. The challenge moving forward is for Layun to create as many dangerous plays as he can when he plays as either right-back or left-back.
In West Ham's 1-0 win over Swansea, Hernandez was taken off the field in the 78th minute without having taken a single shot on goal during the time he was on the field. That stat should be cause concern. Even though he has scored three goals this season, Hernandez is still trying to figure out how he's going to be a difference maker in the team.
All the goals he has scored happened in games the Hammers lost. Also, it seems that the partnership up top with Andy Carroll isn't working out as planned. Because "Chicharito" doesn't back down from challenges, there's reason to believe that his season will improve, but if he's not feeling comfortable on the field, the task to have a better season than the last will be difficult one to complete.
Real Sociedad might only be three points off La Liga's top six, but Carlos Vela has contributed hardly anything to the club. His goodbye from La Real is turning into a depressing one because it seems that manager Eusebio Sacristan doesn't need him in order to make the team more competitive. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vela, who's only played 227 minutes in La Liga, to finish his time at the club without scoring a single goal. Luckily for him, he still has three months to celebrate a goal in front of the Txuri-urdin faithful in San Sebastian.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.