Mexican soccer player
Luis Hernandez is Mexico's top all-time scorer in international soccer with 35 goals (having passed Carlos Hermosillo in that category in 2000). He led the Mexicans to one of their best World Cup showings ever in 1998 when he scored four goals in four games, winning for them a berth in the round of 16 and leading them to a near upset of powerhouse Germany. While less successful with professional teams in Argentina and the United States, "El Matador," he of the flowing blond hair, remains, even in the twilight of his career, one of his country's most revered athletes.
"Hernandez has a burst of speed second to none in the (penalty) area and also has the ability to beat players one on one," the FIFA World Cup Web site said of Hernandez during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. "He has a temper and has been known to lose it and has been struggling with injuries the last two years."
Soccer Roots in Family
Hernandez's father and two uncles played first division soccer in Mexico. At age 18, Hernandez turned pro and joined the club team Necaxa. He led it to national championships in 1995 and 1996. Meanwhile, he had led the Monterrey Tigres to the CONCACAF Champions Cup title in 1993. (CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). Hernandez scored 38 goals in 64 games for Monterrey from 1996-2000; he also competed for Cruz Azul and Santos Laguna.
1997 was Hernandez's breakthrough year internationally. He scored six goals in six games at the Copa America tournament in Bolivia, and was named the event's most valuable player while propelling Mexico to a third-place finish. Now sought by teams from several countries, Hernandez signed with the Boca Juniors of Argentina, who won out over Borussia Moenchengladbach of the German elite league, the Bundesliga, and several teams from Major League Soccer of the United States.
World Cup Standout
Hernandez was at his best in 1998, when France hosted the World Cup and the Mexicans, who had never before won a World Cup game in Europe, advanced past the opening round. Mexico became a media darling, living on the edge in its tournament games. There was even turmoil before the quadrennial event began. Mexico fired Coach Bora Milutinovic after the qualifying games and replaced him with Manuel Lapuente, who had won four national titles with Necaxa and Puebla. (Milutinovic had coached the United States to the round of 16 in the previous World Cup, which the U.S. hosted). In addition, Hermosillo, who had scored 11 goals during qualifying, was omitted from the squad.
Playing at the striker position, Hernandez, who scored only one goal throughout the qualifying, connected twice in the last 15 minutes of regulation as Mexico came from behind to beat South Korea 3-1 in its first game, at Lyon. The Koreans had to play one man short the final 60 minutes.
Mexico looked beaten in the following game, down 2-0 to Belgium and short a man with about 35 minutes remaining, but rebounded for a 2-2 draw at Bordeaux. Thanks to Hernandez, Mexico earned another 2-2 draw in its next game, against the Netherlands at Saint-Etienne. Hernandez, five minutes into injury time (added to the end of soccer games), scored against Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar off a goalmouth scramble.
Having proven its comeback ability in its opening games, Mexico faced a different challenge against the Germans. Hernandez gave his country a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute, scoring against keeper Andreas Koepke, but Mexico found that protecting a lead was tougher than coming back. Veterans Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff connected late in the game, Bierhoff with less than four minutes left in regulation, and the Germans ended Mexico's run.
North of the Border
In May, 2000, Hernandez signed a three-year agreement with the Los Angeles Galaxy. To remain under the salary cap, the Galaxy had to give up several starting players and pay Monterrey several million dollars. Hernandez was also allowed to play for a Mexican team during the season.
Still, Galaxy and league officials thought the move was a boon to soccer in Southern California, with its large Mexican fan base. (U.S.-Mexico games played there usually involve a mostly pro-Mexican crowd, and American players have likened it to playing an away game.) Ticket sales spiked, though Hernandez drew fire from the Mexican media for going to the U.S. Hernandez, who joined the league midseason, found the physical play in the MLS an adjustment. "I know that there is more passion, more passion in other leagues," he told Soccer Times through an interpreter. "There are leagues that let you play and enjoy soccer. Here it is very hard and strong and you need to be up to it." "I have to work and put myself in the groove of this type of soccer," he added. "I don't have time to feel sorry for myself, nor should I feel sorry for myself. [MLS] is another type of soccer, and I have to enjoy it."
|1968||Born December 22 in Poza Rica, Veracruz, Mexico|
|1988||Signs with Mexican pro team Necaxa|
|1995||First international cap (February 1, vs. Uruguay)|
|2000||Signs with Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer|
|2002||Competes as reserve for Mexico in World Cup in South Korea and Japan|
|2002||Released by Mexican club America at start of Apertura (opening) season; signs with Veracruz Red Sharks for 2003 Clausura (closing) season.|
Hernandez, however, contributed little in his two years with the Galaxy. Robert Wagman, in Soccer Times, assailed Hernandez for lack of commitment and urged the Galaxy to sever ties after the star striker failed to show for the CONCACAF Champions Cup in January, 2001, in which the Galaxy and Washington's D.C. United competed. "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," Wagman wrote. "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." The Galaxy and Hernandez parted company after the 2001 season.
One More World Cup
Hernandez appeared as a substitute for Mexico in three games in the 2002 World Cup. The Mexicans reached the round of 16 before losing 2-0 to the United States. Hernandez had lost his spot on the national team, as Coach Javier Aguirre opted for younger, hungrier players; Aguirre, however, recalled Hernandez in April. "With so much talk of Aguirre wanting players willing to work hard and sacrifice personal objectives for the good of the team, the implication was that Hernandez had become too old and self-satisfied to earn a place in Aguirre's program," Mike Penner wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "His recall to Mexico's World Cup team in April was considered a surprise, even if the inclusion of a 33-year-old World Cup veteran with a knack for finding the back of the net made practical sense."
Hernandez, who signed with his hometown Veracruz for the Mexican League's 2002-03 closing session, satisfied soccer-hungry Mexican fans. Especially noteworthy was his play in the 1998 World Cup in France. His four goals, often amid high drama, propelled his nation to an undefeated opening round in its group, then a near-upset of mainstay Germany. He also pleased fans in such places as Monterrey and Necaxa. That Los Angeles signed him, and paid dearly in cash and players, reflect his popularity in the Hispanic sports market, even though his tenure in the MLS was marked by controversy.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1993||Leads Monterrey Tigers to CONCACAF Champions Cup title|
|1997||Mexico wins U.S. Cup|
|1997||Scores six goals in six games for Mexico in Copa America tournament|
|1997-98||Mexican Player of the Year|
|1998||Winner's medal, CONCACAF Gold Cup, 1998|
|1998||Scores four goals in four games as Mexico reaches round of 16 at World Cup in France|
|1999||Mexico wins U.S. Cup|
He bonded with Mexican fans during the 1998 World Cup. "I think this is a message to the Mexican people," Hernandez said after its 2-1 defeat to the Germans. "You should trust us. For those who do not trust us, please understand. We have done the utmost. We are extremely proud of what we have done today against the German team."
Penner, Mike. "Hernandez Says the Sub Way Is OK." Los Angeles Times (June 7, 2002): D9.
2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan, Luis Hernandez Profile, http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com, (January 29, 2003).
Biography Resource Center, Luis Hernandez Profile, http://galenet.galegroup.com, (January 29, 2003).
"Luis Hernandez Is out of LA and Looking for a Home." SoccerAge.com, http://www.soccerage.com, (November 30, 2001).
"Luis Hernandez Returns to Verzcruz." SoccerAge.com, http://www.soccerage.com, (December 29, 2002).
Rodriguez, Robert. "Hernandez: I Have to Work to Put Myself in the Groove." SoccerAge.com, http://www.soccerage.com, (June 30, 2000).
Wagman, Robert. "MLS Should Write off Hernandez as a Bad Investment and Send Him Packing." Soccer-Times, http://www.soccertimes.com/wagman/2001/jan22.htm, (January 22, 2001).
World Cup 1998 Online, http://www.worldcup.fr/uk/medias, (January 29, 2003).
Sketch by Paul Burton