At long last, ‘Chicharito’ will make his home debut Saturday with Galaxy
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has been in Southern California less than two months but he’s already fitting in like a local.
He’s sat courtside at three Laker games, met LeBron James, made the rounds of the talk shows and had a mural of himself painted on a wall between a Peruvian restaurant and a pizza place along the boardwalk in Venice Beach.
About the only thing he hasn’t done is what he was brought here to do: play a competitive MLS game for the Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park. He’ll check that off the to-do list Saturday night in the team’s home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Galaxy is expecting a sellout crowd of nearly 27,000, the largest for a soccer game at the stadium since 2016.
“It’s more motivation than pressure,” Hernández, speaking in Spanish, said of the crowd, which will include his parents. “It’s also part of the show. I started playing because I love it.”
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández will lead the Galaxy into their opener Saturday at Houston, and MLS is banking on him to boost interest in the league.
“I’m ready,” he continued. “I’m really happy for this opportunity.”
So are the Galaxy. For all their star power over the years — from David Beckham and Landon Donovan to Steven Gerrard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — the team that plays in the world’s second-largest Mexican market has never had a major Mexican box-office star.
Goalkeeper Jorge Campos was a favorite on the first two Galaxy teams and forward Gio dos Santos moved the needle for a while, drawing sellouts for his first five home games in 2015. But neither had a lasting impact, with fans eventually deciding to stay home to watch the Liga MX on television rather than view the Galaxy in person.
Hernández, the Mexican national team’s all-time leading scorer and arguably the most popular Mexican player of his generation, was signed in part to change that. And Gustavo Dominguez, a partner at Primetime Sports — a leading Latino marketing agency based in Los Angeles — is cautiously optimistic Hernández will deliver.
“The X factor of most of these big signings — adding that fan engagement, adding that marketing side and muscle and adding it on the field — a lot of things have to align,” he said. “Is the potential there for him to be one of the top signings in MLS history? I think the potential is there.
“But it’s a matter of waiting and seeing if that can all come to life.”
The early results are trending in the right direction. Although attendance dipped 5% in Ibrahimovic’s second season, when he led the Galaxy to the second round of the playoffs, the team has sold more than 1,000 season-ticket packages since Hernández joined in mid-January. And in last week’s season opener in Houston, Hernández helped the Dynamo draw their biggest crowd in nearly two years.
Much of Hernández’s attraction comes from what he does on the field. He’s added to that, however, by being bilingual, personable and good-looking — a triple crown of assets for marketing a soccer player in the U.S.
“He has a broader appeal. And he just carries himself very well,” Dominguez said. “That helps across the board.”
He’s also ubiquitous. In the lead-up to the home opener, Hernández shot a skit for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” ... followed Usher and actress Alison Pill to the couch on “The Late, Late Show with James Corden” ... appeared on “SportsCenter” in English, and then was interviewed by legendary journalist Jorge Ramos in Spanish on Univision.
“It’s Chicharito. Everyone wants him on their TV shows,” Jonathan dos Santos, Hernández’s teammate with the both the Galaxy and Mexican national team, said in Spanish. “This is Hollywood. The marketing in the United States, in soccer, is what sells. He does it well.”
Landon Donovan will get his first chance to see if his new passion will be requited when he coaches the San Diego Loyal of the second-tier USL Championship.
He’s also does it with humility. Hernández is well aware that, as the team’s captain and striker, he’s replacing the acerbic Ibrahimovic, who repeatedly criticized the league and many teammates during a two-season MLS visit in which he set scoring records but didn’t win a trophy.
Without mentioning Ibrahimovic, now with AC Milan, Hernández made it clear he has a different agenda.
“Let’s put aside the comparisons,” he said. “We need to be very respectful to value this league, value this tournament, value this country.
“Win the league, that’s what on my mind. If I score only one goal but the team wins, we are all going to win. And if I score, I don’t know, 50 goals and we don’t qualify for playoffs, it won’t do any good.”
Dominguez agrees. Many fans in Saturday’s sellout crowd, he said, will be there to see Hernández. If they have a good time and the team plays well, they’ll be back. If not? Well, there’s always the Mexican league on TV.
“He will definitely bring a lot to the table,” he said. “The potential of it being extremely beneficial for the city, for MLS and then for soccer in the United States is definitely there.
“But ultimately we have to see the movie play out.”
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