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Soccer

Big Galaxy crowd sees little from Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández in home-opener loss

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández attempts a shot as Vancouver’s Leonard Owusu defends in Carson on March 7, 2020.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández attempts a second-half shot as Vancouver’s Leonard Owusu defends in Carson on Saturday night.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When the Galaxy paid a club-record transfer fee to bring Javier “Chicharito” Hernández from Spain to Major League Soccer this winter, they hoped the investment would pay dividends in the stands and on the field.

Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

Hernández’s first MLS home game Saturday drew a sellout crowd of 26,382 to Dignity Health Sports Park, but neither the Galaxy nor the team’s newest star gave the fans much to cheer in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Galaxy dominated possession and matched Vancouver with 12 shots, but only one of those came from Hernández. For the second time in as many MLS games he had the fewest touches of any starter and in two games he has managed two shots — neither one on target.

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Why that is he didn’t say. Because after going missing for most of his team’s first two games, Hernández skipped Saturday’s postgame media conference entirely, leaving others to explain his play.

LAFC star and MLS’ reigning MVP Carlos Vela will try to extend his home scoring streak, now a record 11 games, Sunday against the Philadelphia Union.

Tosaint Ricketts scored the game’s only goal in the 74th minute and a minute later any chance the Galaxy had at a comeback took a hit when midfielder Joe Corona drew a second yellow card for stomping on the foot of Vancouver’s Russell Telbert and was ejected, leaving the team a man down.

Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said he’s confident Hernández will eventually figure out MLS play — but inthe meantime the pressureon his new star grows, and that is distracting the team as well.

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“Everyone is waiting for the Chicharito goal,” he said. “I am more worried about the result tonight than if Chicharito scored or not.

“Sometime in soccer it’s not about who deserves to win. It’s about who scores.”

And with only one shot on goal, it was unlikely Schelotto’s team was going to do that, leaving the Galaxy (0-1-1) winless two games into the coach’s second season.

The five-time league champions have gone a franchise-record five seasons without an MLS Cup appearance and have won only three playoff games since their last title in 2014. Off the field, home attendance has dropped in five of the last eight seasons despite the presence of box-office draws such as Steven Gerrard, Gio dos Santos and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Javier Hernández’s first game at his new home stadium Saturday looked, sounded and felt like any other home opener for the Galaxy, who dropped a 1-0 decision to the Whitecaps.

Hernández, arguably the most popular Mexican player of the last decade, is already having an impact there: The team said it has sold more than 1,000 season-ticket packages since it paid Sevilla nearly $10 million for Hernández’s rights in January and Saturday’s announced crowd was the Galaxy’s largest for a home opener since 2015.

But for most of the night it was a quiet crowd, as if waiting for Hernández to give it a reason to cheer.

As they did in last week’s season-opening draw in Houston, Hernández’s teammates tried mightily to get him the ball, especially in the early going. In the eighth minute, left back Emiliano Insúa bent in a cross that was too high, finding the head of winger Aleksandar Katai instead. His shot — the first of a game-high five he took in 59 minutes — missed well wide of the left post.

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The next time down, Insúa targeted Hernández again, sending the ball into the center of the field just as Hernández began a run into the penalty area. That pass went behind him and Hernández finished the first half with 10 touches, lowest for either team.

“We can’t force it,” Schelotto said in Spanish. “The goals will come.”

To cap a frustrating night Hernández had his pocket picked by Vancouver defender Andy Rose, who took the ball away at the top of the box, breaking up a promising scoring opportunity midway through the second half.

A half hour later Hernández showered and slipped silently off into the night, as quiet after the game as he had been during it.

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.


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