Mexico must choose Copa America or Olympics for Javier Hernandez
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has returned from his recent muscle injury and, in his second game back, appears to have recovered his form. Hernandez notched an assist in Bayer Leverkusen's Europa League win over Sporting Lisbon, which helped Bayer advance to the quarterfinals of the competition.
Now Leverkusen and Hernandez will face Villarreal, which has another Mexican player, Jonathan Dos Santos, in their squad. It's a sign of how far the country has advanced in sending players to teams in Europe that this occurrence isn't so rare anymore.
Still, the expectations and hopes for Hernandez this year are perhaps higher than that of any other Mexican player. Not only has he had a blazing start to his Bundesliga career, but he is also on track to become Mexico's all-time leading goal scorer this year. Of course, goals Hernandez might score at the Olympics won't count toward his total, as that is an under-23 tournament.
The former Manchester United man has expressed his preference for the Olympics in the past, but there are many who believe Mexico needs him badly in the Copa America Centenario this summer. The country will have huge support from loyal fans in the U.S., even as it faces off against South America's best.
Bayer Leverkusen have asked Hernandez to choose between the competitions, and pressure might be coming from the coach of El Tri as well.
What's interesting is that manager Juan Carlos Osorio seems to be backing away from his earlier decision to leave the choice up to Hernandez. That might be because of mixed messages coming from the Mexican federation about which tournament is the highest priority. While Mexico is justifiably proud of being defending Olympic champions, the team has a chance to make history in the Copa America.
Osorio thus seems to have come around to the idea that Hernandez is needed for that competition. He is clearly conveying that message through the media and perhaps more directly through private channels to Hernandez.
There's a bit of a behind-the-scenes power struggle on the Mexican national team, given that Osorio, in his first stint as a national coach, needs to prove himself at that level. Until he does, both the Mexican federation and the players have more leverage than the coach in many ways.
Osorio might have stumbled in even reportedly offering Hernandez the freedom to choose. It undermines his authority, not to mention it might offend other national team players who weren't offered the choice. Osorio's backtracking makes him look weak and inconsistent.
The speculation as to whether the Copa America or Olympics will be where the striker will play continues. As yet, there's no final word on a decision by Hernandez.
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.