Posted by Brent Latham
It was just a month ago that Javier Hernandez made Mexican soccer history when he was sold to Manchester United. In mid-April, "Chicharito" was, deservedly, the talk of the nation, and on his way to securing a share of the Mexican league scoring title despite joining El Tri's World Cup camp well before the end of the season, after scoring four goals in three friendlies for Mexico earlier in the year.
Those heady days now seem long past, as Hernandez has cooled off considerably. El Tri's offense in general has been cause for concern over the course of four more recent friendlies to wrap up the camp for domestic players. Hernandez's play in particular has been worrisome. In extended action, the Chivas forward hasn't managed another goal and has failed to cash in on several good chances along the way.
Hernandez played the full 90 minutes in a quiet draw against Ecuador at the Meadowlands 10 days ago, before playing 90 minutes more three days later in Chicago against Senegal. In its third match in a week, Mexico ground out a 1-0 win against Angola in Houston, while Hernandez got some much needed rest, seeing only the final 15 minutes of action.
For a striker to go a few games without scoring is perfectly normal, but the cause for concern grew greatly Sunday, when Mexico faced Chile at El Azteca for a sendoff match in front of a raucous home crowd. El Tri dominated the match against their fellow World Cup finalists but managed only one more goal in the victory. The output could have been much better had it not been for the wastefulness of Hernandez. The forward missed several close range attempts, including a sitter in the early going when he found himself alone at the back post, followed by a second-half breakaway during which he had an empty net at his disposal but missed.
Strikers rely heavily on their confidence, and after a great run Chicharito seems to have lost some of his. Coach Javier Aguirre must now be wondering about the mental state of what has quickly become a key piece in Mexico's World Cup equation. Hot property Hernandez has been the main man in the middle of an attack that features wing play and service and will rely on timely, consistent finishing in South Africa. With Hernandez's production slowing, Aguirre will need to call on Premier League striker Guillermo Franco to pick up some of the slack when he joins the team this week in Europe.
Whether it's temporary or not, given his torrid pace this spring, Hernandez's recent decline in form may have been inevitable, and can serve as a cautionary example for Bob Bradley. The American coach, as much as anyone, has been wary of the hot streaks enjoyed of late by forwards Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle. In calling the two to camp, Bradley stressed the need for forwards to fill situational roles, doing much more than just score.
The next two weeks will tell if Gomez or Buddle can do those small things and maintain scoring form long enough to make the plane to South Africa. But as Hernandez's example shows, goal scoring luck can desert a hot forward quickly, and at any time. That's just what Bradley has been wary of all along.