National Writer: Charles Boehm

Balogun recruitment? Chicharito return? USMNT, Mexico coaches address rivalry

Anthony Hudson USMNT

MLS players will dominate the US men’s national team squad that will host Mexico for a new annual friendly on April 19 in Arizona, interim head coach Anthony Hudson has confirmed to reporters, due in large part to the match falling outside of FIFA international windows.

What remains to be seen is whether MLSers will also be present in El Tri’s kit – starting with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.

The LA Galaxy star was again a central topic of discussion as Hudson and his Mexico counterpart Diego Cocca took questions on Tuesday. In the wake of reports that Cocca had reached out to Chicharito about an end to his El Tri exile, the new coach effectively confirmed the program legend is under consideration for selection – but that he must prove he’s recovered from a hamstring problem in time.

“I have to evaluate the player not only by his characteristics but also by the moment he is going through,” said Cocca in Spanish. “Today I can have a list and I have to wait until the weekend to see how the players finish. Logically I have communication with many of them and that is what I want; I want to listen to him [Hernández] and know how he is, if he is injured.

“I do it with him and with everyone, and we will see what is the best decision.”

Squad complexions

The Argentine manager is expected to select most of his roster from Liga MX, though he said he and his staff are perusing a wider pool of some 40 players including some in MLS and elsewhere abroad. Galaxy homegrown Efraín Álvarez, Houston’s Héctor Herrera and Alan Pulido, the Sporting Kansas City striker who just returned from a year-long injury layoff, are chief among the MLSers who could figure into that list.

Hudson is angling to secure some voluntary releases of USMNTers based at clubs overseas, something he and his staff achieved with Club América winger Alejandro Zendejas, Philadelphia Union product Paxten Aaronson (now at Eintracht Frankfurt) and several others during January camp.

“It is very tricky to get European players to come outside of the window in a moment like this. So the squad is obviously going to be a heavily-based MLS group with say, three or four players that have been allowed to come in,” said Hudson, who later answered a query about early MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi leader Jordan Morris in a manner that suggested the Seattle Sounders star and his teammate Cristian Roldan will report to State Farm Stadium later this month.

“Jordan’s done great. I mean, those Seattle guys, national team players, have had a really good start,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but it just seems with Jordan and Roldan that they both, not only are they doing well but it seems like they have a really even more determined mentality that we’re seeing now on the field, which is great to see.”

Billed as the Allstate Continental Clásico, this month’s friendly fits into a wider USMNT calendar that poses knotty roster-juggling challenges for Hudson, who revealed he’s under contract until August as the program aims to defend their Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup titles in quick succession come June and July. He hopes to keep a number of key contributors for both events, but that may be difficult given the variances among various North American and European schedules.

“Probably the most important thing is that we balance the squad in the right way, that we go into the Nations League and then the Gold Cup and we balance the squad in a way that we have opportunities to retain both titles,” he said. “And this is a great game for us to prepare for that and to look at players, with a view very clearly that this is an important game.

“We would like to have a core group of players go through Nations League and Gold Cup,” he added. “There’s going to be some players that will do it, and there’s going to be some players that can’t … We feel we have a really healthy, strong player pool [to call on].”

Balogun recruitment

Hudson also shared an update about the recruitment of Reims standout Folarin Balogun, whose visit to the USMNT camp in Florida set tongues wagging last month. The 21-year-old is among Ligue 1's leading scorers and may file a one-time switch of association after representing England in the youth ranks.

“We had some very good conversations with Flo and his agent, just sharing what we do, talking to him about where we see him in our team, allowing him just to get a feel for the country, the team, the guys,” Hudson confirmed of the on-loan Arsenal striker.

“The conversations went really, really well, and then, since he and his agent went back to Europe, there have just been a couple of text messages and now it's down to him to make a decision.”

Cocca in the spotlight

Though he’s been in charge for just two games, Cocca is already receiving harsh media scrutiny, thanks to Mexico’s lukewarm Concacaf Nations League performances and the deeper undercurrent of fan discontent that showed in the heavy booing doled out to veterans Guillermo Ochoa and Raúl Jiménez during a 2-2 draw with Jamaica at Estadio Azteca. On Tuesday he was asked whether he “felt Mexican” and understood the intensity of their border rivalry with the United States, which has tilted north in recent years.

“Yes,” said Cocca, who's replaced former Atlanta United boss Tata Martino. “I have the opportunity to give Mexican soccer and the country something of what they gave me as a person, personally, familially, I know how important this clasico is for the people of Mexico. I approach it with the greatest responsibility and joy.

“It is a rivalry and a privilege to be part of and play one of these matches. In that sense we are very excited, motivated to play against the USA and to have a winning mentality, beating the USA would be an important step to generate confidence. We are really looking forward to it.”