El Tri's success depends on 'European' Mexicans

Posted by Brent Latham

El Tri's foreign legion has at times had plenty of difficulty finding playing time in Europe in recent years, so it's easy to grasp why European football might sometimes get a bad name in Mexico.

Even the stars have had their ups and downs. Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela languished for years on EPL benches before finally getting their chances in Spain. Javier Hernandez may look like an obvious exception, but let’s not forget that he had his moments of doubt coming into his third season with Manchester United, when many thought the addition of Robin Van Persie meant the end of Chicharito's days at Old Trafford.

Beyond Hernandez, the rest of Mexico’s crop of European headliners -- Dos Santos, Vela, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno -- have all passed through their own version of hard times on the continent.

In the pressure cooker that is European club football, that’s perfectly normal. Extraordinary is the manner in which each has also done what Mexicans before them have usually not managed -- persevering in the face of adversity and overcoming the odds while becoming classy leaders of their respective clubs.

When El Tri faces Jamaica on Wednesday at El Azteca, the fruits of that labor will be on display. In the process of sticking it out in Europe, this elite group of Mexicans has yielded a core of much improved players that El Tri can call on official FIFA match dates, a development that shows every time El Tri takes the field with a full squad.

While Liga MX players still add the numbers and bulk of the Mexican team, it’s the smaller Europe-based group that adds the flair and professionalism that has made El Tri what it is today. There’s no need to ask rhetorically what Mexico’s national team would be without its Europe-based stars. Just that team has been on display numerous times in recent months with its Mexico-based players, and the results have been at times unimpressive.

The core of the team that lost to the U.S. at El Azteca for the first time in August was Mexico-based with the exception of a then-misfiring Chicharito. The team that sleepwalked through last week’s friendly draw with Denmark in Phoenix came entirely from the Liga MX.

That’s not to say that Liga MX is undermining the national team -- far from it. The local league has some great players, develops talent well and complements the Europe-based core.

Mexico’s true class, though, comes from its handful of Europe-based stars. Starting with Hernandez up top, and continuing with the attacking flair of Dos Santos and Guardado in the midfield, the “Europeans” bring a stroke of genius to Mexican lines that can otherwise look a little bland. Add in the attacking influence of the Spain-based duo and Chicharito’s world-class finishing ability and El Tri is suddenly competitive with any team in the world.

On defense, the center-back pairing is far less classy a line when not marshaled by Moreno. It’s also worth mentioning that at the goalkeeper spot, Memo Ochoa is providing yet another example of what the highest levels of European football can do for El Tri stars who manage to find a place and stick with it.

It’s no revelation that an American country’s stars in Europe would make the team that much better; most of this continent’s best players are overseas these days. But in the case of Mexico, the dependence on stars in Europe to put the national team over the top seems particularly pronounced and begs the question of how far Mexico could go if more of its players waited out the adaptation period abroad.

If the recent history of Mexico’s Europe-based stars is any indication -- and with the likes of Javier Aquino, Diego Reyes, Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian and Jorge Enriquez headed overseas sooner or later -- El Tri could be set for yet another quantum leap in quality in coming years. If that generation can carry the European torch for El Tri, more entertaining times are on the way.

ESPN Conversations