The last time the majority of the Los Angeles Football Club’s 22-person ownership group gathered was in October, when the fledgling Major League Soccer franchise was introduced.
More than five months later the team hasn’t officially decided on a color scheme or a logo. And this being Hollywood, even the team’s name is still considered a working title. But progress is being made.
Team President Tom Penn says an announcement is coming soon regarding the team’s new soccer-specific stadium, which is widely expected to be built on the current site of the Sports Arena in Exposition Park. MLS has long favored that location and an environmental impact study has been completed, making the site shovel-ready.
The team has dropped other hints as well. The five design firms that submitted stadium proposals were asked to use the Sports Arena site as a “hypothetical” location, for example. And the team’s website contains a drawing of a stadium next to the Harbor Freeway.
Penn, however, says negotiations are continuing.
“There’s a difference between ‘pretty much a deal’ and ‘a deal,’ ” he said last week. “Our plan is to have a deal, and the best deal, as soon as possible.”
When the team does lay the cornerstone to its new home, it might want to start thinking about choosing a cornerstone for its new roster as well. And the best choice was also on display at Exposition Park last weekend.
Javier Hernandez, who scored the only goal in Mexico’s 1-0 win over Ecuador at the Coliseum, is the most popular player on Southern California’s most popular soccer team, the Mexican national team. And that makes him the perfect player to build a Los Angeles franchise around.
This isn’t to suggest LAFC should follow the example of Chivas USA, which failed spectacularly by trying to turn that MLS team into a Mexican league affiliate.
But Los Angeles is a city that runs on star power. And nobody knows that better than LAFC’s owners, among them movie mogul Peter Guber, former Lakers star Magic Johnson, author Tony Robbins and former baseball All-Star Nomar Garciaparra.
Signing Hernandez would give LAFC a recognizable star, something it will need to compete in the same market with the Galaxy, MLS’ model franchise, which has featured Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane and will soon include Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
A move to MLS and especially to Los Angeles could also make sense for Hernandez, whose European adventure hasn’t gone as well as he had planned.
Hernandez joined Manchester United of the English Premier League shortly after the 2010 World Cup and scored 20 goals in 45 appearances in all competition in his first season. But his playing time and production declined steadily ahead of last year’s transfer to Real Madrid, where he has started only once.
A move to another European giant isn’t likely to reverse that trend. And a step down to a lesser club in Italy or France would look like a sign of surrender.
Moving to the U.S., on the other hand, would provide a fresh start.
Hernandez needs to play regularly to recapture the form that once made him among the world’s most precocious strikers. And he’ll turn 29 during LAFC’s first season in 2017, close to a striker’s past-due date. So if Hernandez wants to make his mark in the 2018 World Cup, likely his last as a starter, he’ll need to be on the field every week leading up to the tournament, something LAFC could guarantee.
MLS, which is responsible for all player contracts, could easily afford Hernandez. He is nearing the end of a contract that reportedly pays him $6.7 million per year, less than what Kaka is getting to headline Orlando City’s inaugural season and less than what Gerrard will receive when he joins the Galaxy in July.
There are other benefits too. Hernandez was something of an afterthought on Manchester United teams that featured Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, and the same thing happened on a Real Madrid roster that includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. Hernandez, though, would become the biggest Mexican sports star to play in Los Angeles since Fernando Valenzuela pitched for the Dodgers.
Is Hernandez a more dominant player than Mexican teammates Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela or even Raul Jimenez? Maybe not. But he’s a far bigger star.
Plus his boyish good looks and his growing command of English would open up countless sponsorship and commercial opportunities in bilingual Southern California. And L.A. is only three hours by air from his hometown of Guadalajara.
Penn said he needs to hire a coach and a director of soccer operations before the club thinks about building a roster. So until that happens, any talk of players will remain simply that.
Which isn’t to say Penn plans to quash any of that.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “The fun part is imagining it. But we have to get our other ducks in a row first.”
Duck No. 1 is nailing down a site for the team’s state-of-the-art stadium. Then comes the challenge of filling it,
But after hearing the ovation Hernandez received from 88,000 at the Coliseum last weekend, there’s no doubt he gives LAFC the best chance to do that wherever that stadium is built.