Two games into his move to the Galaxy and Javier Hernández already was in hiding.
The once-prolific striker has mastered the art of vanishing, as “Chicharito” was a no-show at the Galaxy’s postgame news conference Saturday night after disappearing in the team’s home opener.
Evidently, $10 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
That a player who lined up for the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid didn’t want to show his face in the wake of a humiliating 1-0 defeat to a team as dreadful as the Vancouver Whitecaps is understandable. Except Hernández sold himself as more than a soccer player. He said he was here to help grow Major League Soccer.
The promise lasted 180 minutes.
The first 90 produced a solitary shot in an ugly 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo.
The other 90, which were played at Dignity Health Sports Park, were more of the same. Hernández touched the ball only 30 times, fewer than any other starter on either team. He attempted only one shot, a desperate header in the 66th minute that had no chance at finding the net.
If he’s helping MLS, it’s by demonstrating how the league has reached a point at which an international track record won’t guarantee a player success.
Especially a one-dimensional player on a bad team.
Which is what Hernández is. He’s an out-and-out goal scorer with a supporting cast that can’t get him the ball.
Now, in all fairness, the blame here has to fall on second-year coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who has molded a group of talented individual players into a stagnant group lacking creativity, as well as knowledge of how to move without the ball.
How a team with Cristian Pavon, Jonathan dos Santos and Emiliano Insua could produce only one shot on frame against a team as untalented as the Whitecaps is shocking.
Hernández spent the majority of the first half disconnected from his teammates, lost between the Whitecaps’ towering center backs, Andy Rose and Jasser Khmiri.
Hernández still was an occasionally useful decoy, as was the case in the eighth minute. Pavon released Insua down the left flank, prompting Hernández to make a run toward the far goal post. As he occupied the defense’s attention, Aleksandar Katai cut inside and got his head on Insua’s cross. Katai’s effort went wide.
Hernández’s frustration appeared to grow as the contest progressed. Twelve minutes into the second half, Katai opted to send the ball to Pavon on the far side instead of to Hernández, who ran to the right side of the penalty box.
Turning to Katai, Hernández motioned toward his feet with both hands. He made similar gestures the week before.
With Hernández incapable of manufacturing any excitement on the field, the game looked, sounded and felt like any other game for the Galaxy.
There were tailgate parties in the parking lot. A banda on the stadium concourse. The playing of “La Chona” when the dance cam flashed on the video scoreboards. Nothing out of the ordinary.
There was a noticeable absence of Mexican national team jerseys in the stands. The optimistic view of this would be that the Galaxy have developed their fan base to the point where they don’t have to rely on outsiders to pack their stadium.
Of course, watching Mexican players in the United States doesn’t have the same novelty as it once did. The country’s national team visits the city almost annually and Hernández was part of El Tri’s traveling party here on multiple occasions.
At the same time, Major League Soccer has become the home of several of Mexico’s top players. The less popular but more talented Carlos Vela is in his third season with LAFC. Rodolfo Pizarro moved from Monterrey to expansion team Inter Miami this season. Alan Pulido switched from Chivas of Guadalajara to Sporting Kansas City.
When presenting the Galaxy’s starting lineup, Dignity Health Sports Park’s public-address announcer called out only the first names of the players, inviting the crowd to holler back their surnames.
In the case of the team’s new forward, a uniform number alone sufficed. A mention of “No. 14” over the sound system elicited a stadium-wide cry: “Chicharito!”
On this night, Hernández needed no introduction. Anyone who watched the game that followed, however, almost had to be reminded that he was even on the field.