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Yep, Chicharito should have gone to the World Cup

On a Mexico team crying out for goals, they could have used him.

Los Angeles Galaxy v Los Angeles Football Club: Western Conference Semifinals - 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Chicharito is the all-time leading scorer for the Mexico men’s national team, he’s averaged roughly a goal every two games in an international career spanning more than a decade, he’s played the third-most World Cup matches ever for a Mexican male player, and he’s the joint top scorer all-time at World Cups for Mexico.

The LA Galaxy man’s resumé speaks for itself, but it’s not just something of the past. The 34-year-old is coming off a season in which he was an MLS MVP finalist, and has scored 35 goals the past two seasons in MLS play. Combined with an admittedly down 2020 campaign, Chicharito’s got 37 goals in 65 league games since coming to MLS — again, very roughly a goal every two games averaged across three years.

And yet he didn’t go to the 2022 World Cup.

If Mexico had an embarrassment of riches at the striker position, and if they had a cadre of productive, healthy forwards, then leaving Chicha at home wouldn’t have been such a big deal. It’s pretty well known that the player and (for now) El Tri head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino don’t see eye to eye.

It seems to all stem from Chicharito encouraging and facilitating a party during a national team camp, which broke protocol. Obviously breaking the rules shouldn’t be encouraged, but El Tri has a longstanding (and somewhat sordid) history of players partying hard. It seems Martino wanted to draw a line in the sand, and after Chicharito initially refused to apologize for his role in the matter, Martino reportedly made an example of the player.

But in the process, Martino appeared to cut off his nose to spite his face. Publicly, Chicharito said he would welcome a recall to the national team, even if behind the scenes he allegedly did not do what Martino wanted. Eventually, Chicharito did apologize to Martino and the FMF, but the bridge had been burned, and Martino shut the door on Chicharito’s future involvement. It seems pretty clear that there is some enmity between the men that meant neither wanted to give up his position.

The result? Mexico’s forward corps have severely underwhelmed in this World Cup. The most notable No. 9 is Raul Jimenez, who due to an unfortunate series of injuries, major and minor, looks like a shadow of his former form and is clearly not fully fit for this tournament. Chucky Lozano has been decent as a wide forward, and was great in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, but a baseline of “decent” isn’t good enough for the pressure of a tournament like the World Cup, and the likes of Henry Martin and Alexis Vega for the most part didn’t perform when called upon.

Martino somehow called up an old Mexico squad for the World Cup that also had a shaky forward group coming in, and yet he still refused to call up an older player who actually had form. Even if he wasn’t ready to start Chicharito, would it not have been better to have him to bring off the bench when Mexico needed a different look in a tight match against Poland, or to chase the game and seek an equalizer before Argentina scored the dagger to win that game? Or to get that final all-important goal against Saudi Arabia?

I won’t say for certain if Chicharito were playing at this tournament everything would have gone differently and better, but you have to give yourself a fighter’s chance, don’t you? We all knew goals would be an issue for this group, and Martino’s stubborn decision means Mexico’s streak of advancing out of the group at World Cups is done.

And what’s done is done. Chicharito’s World Cup career is almost certainly over, and even with Martino out as Mexico coach, Chicharito’s run with El Tri could really be over for good now, too. That’s a shame for him and Mexico, but hopefully he will look to continue his form with the Galaxy in 2023 as they chase some long-awaited silverware.

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