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MLS should write off Hernandez as a bad investment and send him packing.By Robert Wagman
LOS ANGELES (Monday, January 22, 2001) -- When both the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United won their opening matches in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, Major League Soccer officials here, from commissioner Don Garber to deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis on down, were all smiles because it meant MLS was assured of a qualifier to represent the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean in the World Club Championship in Spain this summer.
The invitation to the international stage was certain since the two MLS teams would meet in one semifinal and both participants of the championship game would be awarded CONCACAF tickets to the 16-team world tournament.
Then when Olimpia of Honduras ousted Mexican club Pachuca in the other semifinal, those smiles turned to broad grins because while MLS and the Galaxy would be in Spain, the Mexican Federation would have no representative with Pachuca and Toluca eliminated here.
Internationally, and understandably, MLS suffers from something of an inferiority complex. The Mexican Federation is the most powerful and richest federation in its region, and it is clear that its teams and fans on both sides of the border pretty much look down on MLS. So this weekend’s gives hope to many in MLS that Mexicans might start viewing MLS in a more positive way.
For this to happen, however, MLS must move aggressively to solve its problems with the Galaxy’s marquee striker Luis Hernandez, a star of Mexico’s national team and once its professional league. His absence from the CONCACAF tournament, apparently with no legitimate excuse, should bring harsh discipline.
At almost foolish expense, MLS bought Hernandez’s contract last season. While exact figures have never been released, reports in the Mexican media indicate Hernandez receives an annual seven-figure salary, and several more millions were paid as a transfer fee.
To help pay this stiff price, MLS is loaning ("renting" would be a more appropriate term) Hernandez to Club America of Mexico during the MLS offseason and until the end of the Mexican season, which means the Galaxy will be more than two months into its season before Hernandez arrives.
Club America is paying MLS a bundle for Hernandez, so it is understandable that the powers that be in Mexico, which includes television giant Televisia, which owns the club, and the Mexican Federation, feel they own Hernandez and he is being lent to MLS. At least that seems to be their attitude.
In any event, MLS has for weeks been trying to assure that Hernandez would rejoin the Galaxy in time to train in preparation to play in the CONCACAF tournament. The league thought it had a deal, but when Club America started to drag its feet, MLS made a concession that Hernandez could play in the league match against Santos Laguna on the Sunday before the CONCACAF event started, and three days before he was needed by the Galaxy.
MLS went even further than that. It only wanted Hernandez for the quarterfinal and semifinals, games with world championship implications, before he was then free return to Mexico for a Sunday league match.
Still, Hernandez was a no-show. "We tried hard. We were negotiating up to the 11th hour with Club America, with Televisa, and with the Mexican Federation," MLS commissioner Garber told Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times. "We were under the impression he was coming."
Word from Mexico was Hernandez wanted to report to the Galaxy, but he had "strained" ribs in a match against Santos Laguna. Other reports in the Mexican media said Hernandez was simply tired, angry that Club America’s newest signee Chilean Ivan Zamorano scored three against Santos Laguna and wanted a week off. Club America’s next match was originally postponed, anyway, to allow its opponent Toluca to complete in the CONCACAF tournament.
When Toluca was eliminated on Tuesday by Olimpia, the regular-league match was restores and suddenly the injured Hernandez made a miracle recovery. He played the entire 90 minutes on the same day his teammates, the ones in Los Angeles, were defeating Olimpia 3-2 for the CONCACAF crown.
MLS officials privately said it is not clear to them whether Hernandez simply blew off coming back to Los Angeles or whether he was pressured to do so by his club. They would like to believe he wanted to play in L.A., but there is considerable evidence to the contrary.
In either event, whether he did not want to make the trip back or whether Club America pressured him not to go, MLS must take action. Simply complaining won’t do.
Hernandez is being paid a small fortune, an amount vastly out of proportion to the minimal contribution he has made to the Galaxy, either on the field or by drawing fans to games from the team’s large Hispanic fan base. MLS strongly believes it must have a big-name Mexican player on the Galaxy to keep faith with the fans, and have thrown handsome sums to the likes of Herndandez, Carlos Hermosillo and Jorge Campos, only to turn a blind eye to the liberties that these players have taken at the expense of the Galaxy and the league.
Hernandez’s contribution at the box office has been as anemic as his output on the field. The fans who showed up at the CONCACAF tournament in the Galaxy’s home territory for four doubleheaders cumulatively wouldn’t come close to filling half of the Los Angeles Coliseum, site of the semifinals and championship match. Beyond some Galaxy stalwarts, mostly it was Hondurans who turned out to cheer on their countrymen.
For a fraction of what it is paying Hernandez, MLS could get tourney "Most Valuable Player" Denilson Costa or one of the good young Hondurans who likely will give the U.S. more than a little trouble in World Cup qualifying. This way. the Galaxy would get a player who wants to play in America and one who fans might actually pay to see.
MLS should cut its losses, as was done with German Lothar Matthaeus and Irani Khodadad Azizi, who were fell well short
of expectations in the 2000 season, and release Hernandez. No one would miss him and his presence diminishes the league's stature.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..