Mexico’s biggest rival was in shock after hearing they would not be going to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It was the first time since 1986 that the USMNT failed to qualify for the prestigious tournament. Today, everyone from media to the fans are trying to dissect what happened. For Mexico, there is a lesson to be learned from their elimination, as well as their new criticisms of their own footballing world.
One major criticism I have had of Mexican players since 2015 is the new interest in leaving Europe for MLS. I got a lot of flack from fans who enjoy the league, but my criticism comes from wanting to see Mexican players competing at the highest level during their best years. When Giovani dos Santos left Villarreal, I was very worried. It doesn’t mean he won’t be called up, it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t contribute, but he was going to be missing out on the highest quality football possible. Also, I would have this criticism for Mexican’s who leave Europe for a Liga MX side. Although it wouldn’t be as painful to see, there’s an empty feeling to see a player throw in the towel abroad.
After the USMNT was eliminated last week, I started to see the tide change a bit. Now we’re seeing the conversation turn to players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore (among others) who left Europe for MLS. Was their return to MLS the best move possible? Did it hurt their competitive form? Etc. These new questions were not common several months ago. However, with the United States out of the World Cup, it seems that playing at the highest level possible is now a priority for some fans and pundits who glossed over that fact.
Jermaine Jones hits on some of these points when he brings up Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris. He tells a story about how Werder Bremen had interest in signing him (due to Klinsmann influence) but Jordan preferred to stay in MLS. Jermaine feels there are too many players who aren’t challenging themselves as much as possible with examples like that. Yes, Jermaine is in MLS today, but in his prime, he was in Europe until 2014. Granted, some in US Soccer didn’t agree with him, but many did. There’s a reason the most poised player in a USMNT kit regularly faces teams like Schalke, not New England Revolution.
To bring all this back to El Tri, these are similar criticisms of players like Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos, and Carlos Vela who will all be on MLS sides when the 2018 World Cup kicks off. Giovani and Jona have missed out on the MLS playoffs, will not be in CONCACAF Champions League, and will have a long gap between meaningful minutes. Carlos will be leaving Real Sociedad shortly and will be joining a team who has yet to play a game in MLS. It’s a big risk to make a move like that before the World Cup, if at all.
If Mexico wants to break down that wall they face every round of 16, they need to have as many players possible playing at the highest level possible. Playing in Europa League, Champions League, League Cup matches will not only help the physical form of the player but the mental form, as well. Mexico needs to concern itself with being a complete roster among the Argentina’s, Brazil’s, Spain’s of the world. None of that will happen when players call it a career abroad while still in their prime, or avoiding the challenge altogether.