Five Mexico internationals primed to leave Europe for MLS switch
MEXICO CITY -- For more than two decades now, Mexico fans have gotten used to some of their best players setting up shop in Major League Soccer. The duality of this situation has meant simultaneous pain and joy. For every family rejoicing in Chicago over Cuauhtemoc Blanco or Jorge Campos joining the squad, there was distress in Coyoacan.
In the past, however, the prevailing theme had been El Tri legends making their move to MLS well beyond their prime. It is a different story now.
The signing of Giovani dos Santos in 2015, then age 26, opened the door for other Mexican players to break the taboo of joining the league during their best years and not as a victory lap in their waning moments.
Jonathan dos Santos (27) and Carlos Vela (29) followed suit, creating a budding market and the possibility of more compatriots joining in the months to come. With the World Cup around the corner, it's likely MLS will be making further moves and add to the Mexican contingent for 2018 and beyond.
Here are five players the league would be wise to have on its radar:
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez | 29 | Forward | West Ham
This is a no-brainer. Chicharito will be 30 by the time the World Cup is over, and still in the prime of his playing career. He will also have spent eight seasons in Europe, since his shock transfer to Manchester United was announced in the months prior to the 2010 World Cup.
Hernandez has scored more than 100 goals in Europe with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and now West Ham United. He is one of the most popular players in Mexico's history. A move to MLS has been long in the making, too. Hernandez has been complimentary of Vela and the Dos Santos siblings in the past.
"Coming to West Ham doesn't make me more ambitious or a better player than [Vela and Dos Santos]. We need to respect others, respect Mexicans. We lack that, we need to see the good in things," Hernandez said last August.
Finally, as late as last year, ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle reported talks between the league and Hernandez for a potential transfer ... after the upcoming World Cup.
Marco Fabian | 28 | Midfielder | Eintracht Frankfurt
After fulfilling a longstanding dream to play in Europe in 2016, Fabian is nearing the end of his three-year contract with Eintracht Frankfurt. In that span, he's had brilliant moments on the pitch, and some sour ones as well.
The attacking midfielder has been unable at times to shake the injury bug, but his massive talent beckons as reason enough for any MLS team to make a serious run at his services. Fabian has a history with the league courting him: He was reportedly on Atlanta United's early wish list for high-impact transfer targets. Prior to that, he was mentioned as a potential signing for Chivas USA when the team was still in operation. Twenty-nine in July, he is still in line to deliver high-quality play for years to come -- if he can stay healthy.
Andres Guardado | 31 | Midfielder | Real Betis
Guardado is one of El Tri's longest-serving players and MLS has long been enamored with the Real Betis midfielder. And why not? He is an expert field general, equally adept at commanding attacks with silky passing and a high soccer IQ, as well as a defensive presence who can muck up the most persistent of attackers.
Guardado's name has long been associated with the league. After more than a decade in Europe, it seems the timing is perfect for the 31-year-old to continue his high-quality play on the other side of the Atlantic, while retaining his status as Mexico's captain and most important player.
Raul Jimenez | 26 | Forward | Benfica
At 26, Jimenez is the youngest player on this list -- but perhaps the most tantalizing as well. The Benfica striker has not been a consistent starter in Europe since making the jump from Club America to Atletico Madrid in 2014. In four full seasons since leaving Liga MX, he has yet to amass a single 1,000-minute season.
Thus, the offer of -- potentially -- a designated player contract and the promise to be the featured attacker on any MLS team has to be an interesting prospect. Jimenez has proven repeatedly to be an effective attacker at both the domestic and international levels.
Guillermo Ochoa | 32 | Goalkeeper | Standard Liege
Ochoa will be 33 by the time the 2018 World Cup wraps up -- but age is just a number for goalkeepers. The former Club America shot stopper has been Mexico's top player at the position for the better part of the past decade.
He's also attempted to blaze a trail for Mexican goalkeepers in Europe: Since landing in Ligue 1's Ajaccio in 2011, he's played for four European teams across France, Spain and now Belgium. As he gears up to defend El Tri's goalposts for the second consecutive World Cup, Ochoa can also look to a new challenge Stateside after nearly 200 games in Europe in the past seven years.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.