Chicharito, Lozano moves around Europe should help Mexico in 2018
MEXICO CITY -- It's official: Mexico will be one of the 32 teams at next year's World Cup. If that seems like a given, considering El Tri has been at every single tournament since 1994, it's definitely worth remembering when Graham Zusi -- not Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela or Giovani dos Santos -- was the man responsible for keeping them alive en route to Brazil just four years ago.
Back then, fans and media moaned about how further development was needed, given the strides others had made, shrinking El Tri's CONCACAF dominance. The most-cited way to achieve the goal involves the development and eventual transfer of players to Europe's best leagues. Though Mexico has evolved in this regard, their results since 1994 have been exactly the same at the world's top tournament, exiting in the Round of 16 on six consecutive occasions.
In 1994 only two players, Hugo Sanchez and Luis Garcia, were on European club rosters at the time of the World Cup. In 2014, the number had grown to eight. Taking Juan Carlos Osorio's latest roster roll call into account, nine players (though by next summer, Carlos Vela will have left Europe for MLS) currently ply their trade across the Atlantic.
With that in mind, here are the top moves made by Mexican national team players this summer and their effect on the team's strength going into next year's FIFA World Cup:
Javier Hernandez, FW, Bayer Leverkusen to West Ham
It was refreshing, to say the least, when "Chicharito" stamped his return to the Premier League after a mostly productive spell in Germany. El Tri's all-time goal leader was rumored to make the jump to MLS for ages, it seemed, a frightening prospect for many Mexican fans (more on this later).
In West Ham, Hernandez joins a team in which he will be the top option up front, giving him ample minutes and a chance to fully get in rhythm for the World Cup, a situation denied to him four years ago with Manchester United. If all goes well, Hernandez will finally enter the tournament as Mexico's featured striker.
Carlos Vela, FW, Real Sociedad to Los Angeles FC
The flip side of MLS failing to snatch Hernandez was, of course, its success in landing Vela, arguably Mexico's top talent. Regardless of whether joining a team off the European continent is a step back or not, Vela will get an extended rest in the dead of winter before kicking off with his new club.
If Osorio is as involved with his players and their club decisions as has been implied, he failed massively in trying to keep Vela playing in a top league at least until May. This is the most worrying of all transfers made this summer by national team players.
Hirving Lozano, FW, Pachuca to PSV Eindhoven
"Chucky" is on the loose in Europe. After a quick rise to stardom playing in Mexico, Lozano took his talents to one of the top talent incubators in the world, PSV. He left his mark quickly, too, scoring three goals in his team's first three games and looking like an enthralling prospect for his new club. Lozano followed through on his club form last Friday at the Estadio Azteca, when he headed in the game's only goal against Panama and qualified Mexico for the World Cup.
Jonathan dos Santos, MF, Villarreal to LA Galaxy
Of course, Vela wasn't the only high-profile Mexico star to make the jump to MLS. Dos Santos joined his brother Giovani in the United States' most successful club, but crushingly doing so at the age of 27, just weeks after pundits graded his final season at Villarreal as his best yet. The heir apparent to Andres Guardado, dos Santos will need to prove that playing outside of Europe won't affect his overall level of play, as it seems to have done for his brother.
Andres Guardado, MF, PSV to Real Betis
Speaking of Guardado, much was made of a potential move to Atlanta United that ultimately never materialized. Rejoining La Liga after spells in Germany and the Netherlands, the Guadalajara-born midfielder looks as sharp as ever, bossing Betis' midfield in the early going. With no end in sight to Rafa Marquez's legal situation, Guardado is now the bona fide leader on this El Tri squad, and the skipper is arguably leading by example by choosing to remain in Europe a year out from the World Cup.
Hector Moreno, DF, PSV Eindhoven to AS Roma
Mexico's defense has been quite beleaguered of late, so news of Moreno's move to one of the up-and-coming clubs in European football was a grandiose motive for celebration. At Roma, Moreno will compete for a Champions League-level team and a squad expected to challenge Juventus for the Serie A title, hopefully bringing a higher standard of play to El Tri's defensive unit come next summer.
Carlos Salcedo moved on from Fiorentina to Eintracht Frankfurt. If the powerful defender can stay healthy, he's likely to make the cut and see some playing time in Russia.
Memo Ochoa's move from Granada to Standard Liege in Belgium looks like a lateral one so far, meaning the Mexico goalkeeper is playing in front a shockingly bad defensive line and making unbelievable saves while also receiving a fair share of goals.
Finally, Carlos Pena moving from Leon to Rangers was a welcome surprise, though only time will tell if the midfielder can find the form he once had at his peak with the Liga MX club.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.