Whether on or off the field, drama and controversy are unrelenting when it comes to Mexico’s men’s national team.
Why hasn’t he suited up for Mexico in over two years? And more importantly, after a strong 2021 MLS season, why won’t he be included in the roster that will face the United States and Canada in crucial World Cup qualifiers this month?
The leading belief among the Mexican media is that it's a personal issue between the 33-year-old striker and manager Tata Martino.
In September 2019, during the middle of a two-game friendly tour for El Tri in the United States, reports emerged about an afternoon outing to a New York nightclub involving Hernandez and some of his international teammates. The reporting is vague, and there have been no detailed comments on the matter from the Mexican Football Federation (FMF).
But Hernandez hasn’t returned to El Tri since.
Martino also hasn't done much to clarify the matter. In the past, he has said Chicharito continues to be in the running for a potential spot within the squad. But he also cryptically stated late last month that the “decision is entirely up to the coach” regarding Hernandez’s place in the roster.
Excluding Hernandez might have made sense in 2020, when he struggled to find his footing during an underwhelming debut MLS season. This year though? There's no doubt about his revival. For something behind the scenes to lead to his exclusion makes far more sense than his performance on the pitch, where Chicharito has made a great case for himself.
Despite injury problems – and a lack of an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs spot for the Galaxy – the striker scored 17 goals and contributed three assists in just 21 appearances. To put that into perspective, New York City FC’s Valentin Castellanos won this year’s Golden Boot presented by Audi award with only two more goals than Hernandez, scored in 11 more games.
And Chicharito was arguably even better down the stretch, with five goals and an assist in his last five games.
Maybe Chicharito wouldn't supplant Wolverhampton Wanderers' Raul Jimenez as the starting center forward for Mexico, but the Galaxy striker could easily be the No. 2 option.
It’s difficult to compare MLS and Liga MX goal-scorers, but it's also hard to credibly say Club America’s Henry Martin and Monterrey’s Rogelio Funes Mori are heading into this month’s World Cup qualifiers with as much momentum.
Funes Mori has two goals in his last 10 games combined for club and country. In Liga MX, he hasn’t found the back of the net in his last seven league matches. Martin hasn’t scored for Mexico since their first game of the Octagonal and has one goal in America’s last eight games in all competitions.
And the conversation is about more than numbers.
Hernandez would bring enormous experience as a potential No. 2 behind Jimenez. With 100-plus caps and a wealth of minutes in previous World Cup qualifiers, there's no question the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star has the mental tools to meet the occasion.
All that said, Mexico may be fine without him.
With dangerous attacking players like Jimenez, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and several others, this is a team that could claim four-plus points in its away matches against the US and Canada. With one game fewer and one more rest day between matches than previous windows, Jimenez may even do it all by himself up top.
Hernandez might need a deserved break as well. Visibly emotional, the striker was on the cusp of tears just a few days ago, after the Galaxy failed to qualify for this season’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“Right now, the only thing that I have in my feelings, in my mind and my brain and in everything is like, it hurts,” said the Galaxy’s Player of the Year last weekend. “It hurts when you give everything to something, it hurts.”
And yet, if El Tri’s players are faltering soon or if Jimenez is having an off-day, it’s fair for fans and for even Martino himself to wonder what difference Hernandez could have made. In World Cup qualifiers against two teams featuring a number of MLS players who will be plenty familiar to Hernandez, what would have happened if he were on the field?
After all, the last national team Chicharito played against – and scored against – is the very team Mexico will play this Friday: the United States.