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Sep 26, 2013

El Tri move past Vela and Ochoa dramas

It's a bit of a strange juxtaposition that the two Mexican players who are probably in the best form abroad at present are the same pair who were not used at all in Mexico's most recent losses -- to Honduras and the USA in CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying.

The absences of striker Carlos Vela and goalkeeper Guillermo 'Memo' Ochoa were notable because neither was missing due to injury or suspension. Instead, both players had indicated to then-coach Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre that they would decline a call-up.

The De la Torre era of El Tri is over for now, and Victor Manuel Vucetich is now in charge. The head of the Mexican Federation, Hector Gonzalez Inarritu, reached out to Ochoa and Vela, and indicated to Vucetich that both players had responded positively to the possibility of rejoining the team.

Though both players may avoid confronting the issue directly, or avoid an answer if questioned, the main reason for their earlier refusal now seems obvious. The only way it adds up that Vela and Ochoa were unavailable to play for Mexico while De la Torre was in charge, but willing to take part when Vucetich is the strategist, is if the main problem the players had all along was with De la Torre.

"Fuera Chepo!" wasn't then, merely a desire to ditch the coach, but an awareness by many fans that it would be the first step at getting Vela and Ochoa back into the squad.

Yet even though that seems the current indication, how much of a difference can the two players make in a crisis situation that seems to be crippling El Tri players from playing their best? The upcoming qualifying game versus Panama is a crucial test.

Though Jesus Corona was on a goalkeeping hot streak earlier this year with Mexico, he has been perhaps more affected by the pressure on the entire squad. Instead of the coldly calculating and focused goalkeeper of only months ago, in the last two matches he made uncharacteristic mistakes that led to opposition goals. Meanwhile, Ochoa has been on-form for Ajaccio, helping the squad earn a 2-1 victory over Lyon in their most recent game.

Vela, for his part, has been nothing less than outstanding at Real Sociedad, busily doing the opposite of goalkeeper Ochoa’s job. Vela has become masterful at creating and finishing goals. Last season, he scored fourteen times and assisted on nine goals, helping Real Sociedad earn a ticket to UEFA Champions League play.

Both players bring talent to the table and should be taken very seriously by opponents.

Another big question remains, however. If Vela and Ochoa were to get the call from Mexico and come back to the squad, how would they be treated by fans? How would teammates respond?

The pair abstained from a role many fans would consider huge honor. Teammates also probably have to question, even if only to themselves, how much loyalty exists when a person is putting personal and club interests above the national team.

In Vela's particular case, he probably owes Ochoa a bit of thank-you. As long as Vela was the only major Mexican player refusing play along with De la Torre, Vela was portrayed as a fluke. But it isn't an anomaly when someone else, namely Ochoa, joins the same cause.

Good team play thrives on chemistry. Whatever their personal feelings on whether it's fair that Vela and Ochoa pouted off when needed, then got off relatively easy, Mexico's players don't have time for that pettiness. There's a job to be done.