Going into the Gold Cup two years ago, Mexico was a team on the brink of disaster. Now, of course, they are not.
Amazingly, the player most closely associated with Mexico's revival wasn't even on the 2009 Gold Cup roster - yes, Mexico tuned us up 5-0 without Javier Hernandez. Something to think about when we say we started a B-team.
And so far, apart from Hernandez, those fearsome young Mexican attackers have had a surprising amount of trouble. Carlos Vela, the Dos Santos brothers, and worst of all, Nery Castillo - the gap between expectations and delivery has been almost Altidorean, if not Aduesque.
Which makes Hernandez's accomplishments that much more impressive. How is he doing it?
Maybe it's a little thing, but it could be the nickname, which he wears for club and country. The United States in the 90's went from a wacky collection of hairstyles and spaced-out uniforms to a side so stern they insisted Preki take the field as "Radosavljevic."
To say the least, things haven't changed for the US national team. Short haircuts and glowering stares all the way. The only expression of individuality shown are through the tattoos, and the tone behind those is intimidation, not fun. Clint Dempsey's smoldering snarl is the face of the team these days. Significantly, Landon Donovan's pointed and ironic sense of humor is marketed strictly south of the border.
Meanwhile, there's Hernandez, wearing "Chicharito" on the back of a Manchester United shirt. It's not as Theatre of Dreams is a comedy cavalcade. Yet there it is - and it's not even a self-aggrandizing nickname. "Little Pea," for heaven's sake! It's like something out of a fairy tale.
I think Hernandez is the reason you don't hear that much about ardido anymore. Which is good, because ardido is a loser's mentality, unfit for the beautiful game. Maybe ardido was the order of the day when El Tri was El Triste.
But there's definitely a new, brighter attitude from Mexico these days, one that suits them much better. And it's pretty much down to Javier Hernandez, Chicharito, the Little Pea.
I have no idea how to express this idea in Spanish - chicharitadura, maybe? I suppose in English, you'd have to say that the defining characteristic of Mexico's national team right now is its "little peaness."
But is it just Javier Hernandez who has this "little peaness"? Or has he given it to his teammates?
I think the question answers itself - all you have to do is look at Mexico these days. Hernandez has given them something both powerful and infectious.
Maybe "little peaness" is hard to see. It's a little tough to get a grasp of it, because at first glance there's not much there that's tangible.
But it's had a remarkable degree of success in a short time, and it's shown a great deal of staying power. It's satisfied people from Mexico City to Manchester. It's pretty obvious that this "little peaness" is going to be very popular throughout the world for years.
Great - unless you're in our position. How are we, as Americans, going to deal with "little peaness" coming at us? I know, we say we're not worried about it. We say it doesn't bother us, we say it doesn't matter. But let's face it, we've got way too many holes.
I know, our boys have handled much worse. But if we don't control the balls in the middle, then it's going to be very, very hard. It'll be tough to swallow, especially knowing we're going to have this shoved down our throats for years to come.
Maybe we can get on top and stay on top, but it won't come easily. If we do get the upper hand, we'll definitely have to make sure they don't come from behind. But if things go wrong - well, I for one don't relish the idea of watching our boys get pounded over and over for two hours. And if they jump on top of us early, well, it's going to be painful.
The best hope for the US to deal with Mexico's "little peaness," though, is to cut it off completely. If they can't get balls forward, they can't score. And it goes without saying we'll have to be very, very tight in the back.
One thing's for sure - if we're not careful, Mexico's "little peaness" will make us "green" with envy. (Forgive the pun.)