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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
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 By Tom Marshall

Mexico can't afford Hector Herrera distractions ahead of 2018 World Cup

COPENHAGEN -- There has been no official word on why 28-year-old Hector Herrera left Mexico's camp on Wednesday and missed training. The Mexican federation put out a statement saying simply that he had "special permission" from the coaching staff and directors.

Reports suggest the now-infamous send-off party attended by some Mexico players last Friday in Mexico City might have caused marital friction, although there has been nothing from the player or federation expanding on the topic.

What we do know is that midfielder Herrera returned to training Thursday and worked as normal, looking relaxed. Now Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will be absolutely desperate for Herrera to draw a line under the situation and be fully focused on the World Cup, with Mexico kicking off against Germany on June 17 in Moscow.

Preparation for the World Cup has not been great for Mexico so far. The injury situation -- with Nestor Araujo out and Diego Reyes, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno all doubts -- looks to be clearing up, with the latter three all training Thursday.

But the last thing Osorio can afford is for Herrera's mind to be wandering and for the fallout from that alleged party to roll on. In a squad in which the collective is going to have to shine to achieve success in Russia, Herrera is arguably the key figure, the midfield glue -- more important to the working of this Mexico side than any other individual.

Herrera is coming into this tournament in the prime of his career. He captained Porto to the Primeira Liga title, scoring a late goal to clinch a vital victory against archival Benfica in Estadio da Luz on April 15. It was a goal that will go down in the folklore of the club.

With the national team, Herrera -- who hates being left on the bench -- started against both Wales and Scotland in El Tri's recent friendlies and showed signs that he is in form ahead of Russia 2018. Always offering himself for the ball, pressing, distributing and linking play, the statistics highlight all-action Herrera's importance to Mexico.

Over World Cup qualifying, the Copa America and the Confederations Cup -- the matches with something important at stake -- Herrera has featured for Osorio more than any other player. He's created more chances over those matches than anyone else, had more touches and given more assists.

"He's a player every coach wants because of his ability to play everywhere," Marcelo Bielsa said of Herrera earlier this week in Cancun.

Herrera is the fulcrum of the Mexico side, and it is little surprise he is being linked with a move to Roma. With his contract at Porto reportedly running out in 2019, the Champions League semifinalists are unlikely to be the only big club interested this summer.

In Russia, there is a debate over where Herrera should fit into the national team, with Osorio seemingly unsure of whether he should be the holding midfielder or pushed farther forward to create more offensively. The emergence of Miguel Layun as a midfielder and omission of Jesus Molina in the final squad of 23 perhaps suggests that as things stand, Herrera could play farther back in the holding role.

What is not in any doubt at all is just how important Herrera is to Mexico.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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