There was a name on every Mexico fan's lips in the buildup to the 2014 World Cup: Carlos Vela.
The El Tri faithful hoovered up every bit of news about the Real Sociedad forward, the one whose World Cup in 2010 was hampered by injury. Soon after that tournament, he had a falling out with, well, pretty much anybody who had anything to do with the national team. He abandoned the setup.
That left Mexico searching for a partner for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. The former Chivas star still was getting time with Mexico but was struggling to earn minutes with Manchester United. Vela was tearing it up in La Liga and seemed to be the perfect answer, but he was staying away.
The saga dragged on through the 2014 World Cup, but Vela returned to the fold to great acclaim after the tournament. He scored two goals in his first match back — a friendly against the Netherlands.
After that successful debut, he was somewhat forgotten. He scored two goals during the Gold Cup group stage but did little in the knockout stage. He did earn enough yellow cards to miss the final with a suspension. After his lackluster Gold Cup, Chicharito dominated the headlines with his stunning form for Bayer Leverkusen. Vela started to fizzle in Europe.
Juan Carlos Osorio arrived on the scene as Mexico manager after Vela went unused in October's CONCACAF Cup. The 26-year-old forward apparently was considering entering into another hiatus from international play, but the Colombian manager convinced him to join up. That persuasion paid off for both men as the ex-Arsenal player returned to Estadio Azteca and scored Mexico's third and final goal against El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier.
It looked like Vela was back in the forefront of the Mexican conscious. Yet as Sociedad continued to struggle, he disappeared from more and more matches. Things only got worse under new Sociedad boss Eusebio Sacristan. Some columnists blamed the slip in form on Vela's seeming apathy toward the game. Some players live and breathe soccer. Vela has said that while he loves playing, he'd rather talk about anything else once the whistle blows.
We wrote the eulogies too soon, though. Carlos Vela's career wasn't dead, it was merely sleeping. His first goal of the new year came on the wrong end of a 5-1 result, but he added another two weeks ago in a 5-0 beat down of Espanyol. He didn't score but provided two assists in Sunday's 3-0 victory against Grenada. Spanish sports newspaper AS called it a "magical week" for the Mexican.
Vela conjuring up some magic will be a pleasant sight to Osorio's eyes. It's not that World Cup qualifiers against Canada in March are expected to stretch his team to the limit, it's that an in-form Vela makes any team he's on better. Especially in Osorio's preferred 4-3-3, Vela's ability to play wide on the left or right makes him a nice asset for a national team manager sometimes trying to fit square pegs into the round holes he has in his formation.
For Mexico in particular, Vela always has worked well with Chicharito. While the Leverkusen star can sometimes create for himself, he's a far better player when he has help. Vela can get free on the wing and pump in crosses or get to the line and cut a ball back to the center of the box. He also can give Mexico goals if Chicharito's injury keeps him out until the qualification matches, though he looks to return much sooner.
If Vela is engaged and producing the scoring chances he has this month, he can help Mexico both in March and at the summer's Copa America. Forgotten man? Not any longer.
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