Mexico City: US coach Juergen Klinsmann's motto for Tuesday's World Cup CONCACAF qualifier against Mexico has been "respect but not fear" but when it comes to dealing with striker Javier Hernandez, it is clear there is trepidation as well as admiration. Manchester United striker Hernandez is by far the most deadly striker in the CONCACAF region and his two goals against Honduras, in Friday's 2-2 draw, took his national team tally to an impressive 30 in 45 outings.
"I don't like to talk about goals, for me it is points, results that count," the forward, nicknamed "Chicharito", told reporters on Monday.
Although an admirable sentiment, his ability to put the ball in the back of the net is what defines him as a player and - for the Americans - a threat to their hopes of a first ever qualifying win at the Azteca stadium. Omar Gonzalez, the Mexican-American central defender who will line up against Hernandez, was well aware of the challenge facing him and a makeshift, injury-hit U.S. defence.
"He's just a great goalscorer. He's very mobile and is constantly on the move. During crosses, you can look back and you see him one place and the next thing you know he's somewhere else. You just have to be able to keep your eye on him, and the ball at the same time. If you can manage to do that and play tough on him, I think we hopefully won't let him get a goal," the L.A. Galaxy defender said.
The talents of the Mexican attack were evident in the 2-2 draw in Honduras on Friday - the opening goal was a brilliant, angled, glancing header from Hernandez after a jinking run down the left and pin-point cross from winger Andres Guardado. The second goal was classic 'Chicharito', escaping his marker, timing his run to the near post perfectly and getting on the end of a cross from the left with a clinical finish.
It was a strike that recalled Klinsmann in his prime - instinctive movement and a killer touch.
"He is a player who is fun to watch. There is a reason he is playing for Manchester United - because he is good," Klinsmann said. "So, we watch him, we scout him, we talk about him and we are sure that our centre-backs will take care of him."
U.S. forward Herculez Gomez, who plays in the Mexican league, believes Hernandez's strength is as much in his attitude as his instinctive ability in the penalty area.
"He is mentally strong, I think he has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way and that speaks volumes to his mental strength. When benched, when doubted he just keeps coming back. From a striker's perspective - and for me, my whole game is movement, his movements are unreal, amazing. He finds gaps, spaces, makes himself available, his goals sometimes aren't the prettiest but he is such an effective player with his movement," said Gomez.
Nullifying the threat Hernandez poses will require the U.S. to deal with Guardado and the other creative force, Giovani Dos Santos, a pair of players who ripped the U.S. apart in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final which Mexico won 4-2. Hernandez didn't score in that game but Geoff Cameron, expected to start at right back for the U.S. on Tuesday, says it will require total concentration to keep him at bay.
"Get tight to him, keep close to him, his movement is fantastic - he kind of reads off your movement," said Cameron. He's just got a knack for goals, he's always sniffing around, you have just got to be prepared, keep an eye out all the time, because you never know where he is."