Hernandez shows he shouldn't be written off as Mexico beats United States

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Raul Jimenez is Mexico's top striker right now, but don't forget about Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Much of the talk around Mexico's center-forward position has been of Jimenez surpassing Hernandez as the starter since Gerardo "Tata" Martino took over in early 2019. And when a striker has scored eight goals in a month like Jimenez just has, it's going to be difficult to dislodge him.

But Mexico's all-time top scorer Hernandez, who actually had a better ratio of goals to minutes played in the Premier League last season than Jimenez, provided a timely reminder on Friday of why he'll continue to push his teammate for the regular start in the Qatar 2022 process.

With 51 international goals from 108 caps, he's not the kind of player who is simply discarded.

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Hernandez scored a typical Hernandez goal to hand Mexico the lead in Friday's 3-0 victory over the United States in MetLife Stadium. Jesus "Tecatito" Corona took the ball down the right-wing midway through the first half, nutmegged Sergino Dest and shipped in a crossed for Hernandez to head home and round off a goal of real quality.

The instant replay showed Hernandez doing what he does best, finding space inside the penalty area and providing the finishing touch. But that only tells some of the story of arguably Mexico's best goal under Martino so far. And much of it had to do with Hernandez's build-up play.

El Tri knotted together 20 passes, with goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco playing two of them and Hernandez dropping deep on three occasions to link play -- the first to pass the ball back to Orozco, the second to switch it to the left and the third to move the angle of attack down the right wing (where Mexico had numerical superiority), from where Jorge Sanchez and Corona combined to eventually provide the assist.

Hernandez's movement was a lesson in how to destabilize a defense and enabled Mexico to have as many players in the opposition's box at the time of Corona's cross (five) as the U.S. had defenders. He was able to ghost into position to score unmarked on the penalty spot due to him dropping off, posing the question to the U.S. defense of whether they should follow him back or remain in position.

So far, Martino has thrown the gauntlet down to Hernandez, in the Argentine's own straight-talking way, indicating in no uncertain terms that Jimenez is the starting striker.

"Raul is our most important forward, I'm talking about Mexican football, not just this competition, but overall," Martino said during the Gold Cup.

For Hernandez, who has played at Real Madrid and Manchester United, competition for his place in the starting XI is normal.

"It surprises me that there being more competition now is talked about," Hernandez told TUDN after Friday's game. "It's always there. It's the bread and butter of football."

Hernandez struggled with injuries last season at West Ham United, while the launch of video blog "Naked Humans" with his wife and friends -- where he said he wanted to move clubs -- hasn't sat well with many. Yet Hernandez had been desperate to stay in Europe when other Mexican players have sought a return to Liga MX or MLS. He even took a significant wage cut to move to Sevilla before the transfer deadline.

Hernandez has recently become a father, could potentially be a regular for one of Spain's top clubs this season and showed against the United States that in terms of pressing and playing to team orders and tactics there are few strikers as intelligent.

Hernandez is in his peak, and if the goals flow for Sevilla, Martino will have some thinking to do.

But it isn't just upfront that Martino may have a headache moving forward. Mexico was superior to the United States in most departments, but you make the argument that the biggest one was on the bench and what was left in reserve.

Corona dazzled at times in his return to the national team, Hector Herrera looks like being a central part of Martino's plans, as well as Hernandez returning with a goal. On the bench, the likes of Hirving Lozano, Jonathan dos Santos, Jimenez, Carlos Salcedo, Edson Alvarez and Guillermo Ochoa all watched on patiently. Mix in the younger players that seem increasingly comfortably at International level -- Carlos Rodriguez, Roberto Alvarado, Jorge Sanchez -- and the competition is bubbling up nicely.

If things go to plan, that will be further fueled by Martino picking mainly younger players for the CONCACAF Nations League in October and November.

Right now, you'd be pushed to name Mexico's best center-back partnership, or Martino's best combination of wingers or full-backs.

It's a healthy problem to have, and that increased competition for places is arguably the Martino's biggest achievement with El Tri to date, even considering the Argentine can boast a 12-game undefeated streak and has just beaten the archrival twice in succession, including in the Gold Cup final, without conceding.