Chicharito wants to take Galaxy back to familiar spot in final year of contract
The first Chicharito, the 2020 version, was often bitter and angry. Burdened by personal issues off the field and injuries on it, he played fewer than 800 minutes and scored only two goals.
The second Chicharito, the 2021 version, was philosophical, funny and highly productive, scoring 10 times in his first 10 games. But he sat out the next 12 because of a calf injury, probably costing him a scoring title and his team a playoff berth.
The third Chicharito, who will make his debut in Sunday’s regular-season opener with New York City FC at Dignity Health Sports Park, is still in development. But Hernández was asked if, given the progression of the first two years, this version was hoping to say healthy and reach the postseason.
“I like sometimes when you guys do the question and you repeat the answer in the same question,” he said with a laugh.
Don’t let the playfulness fool you. This year is a serious one for Hernández, who will turn 34 in June, halfway through the final season of a three-year $18-million contract, among the richest in MLS.
Galaxy acquisition Douglas Costa became a star with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. Now he watches developments in his former home from afar with fear.
Another injury-interrupted campaign, or one that ends short of the playoffs, probably would be his last in the league — and perhaps his last anywhere. But if he can play a whole season the way he played at the beginning of the last one, he’ll be back. And the Galaxy probably will be back in the playoffs.
“The main objective here is getting the sixth [title],” Hernández said of a Galaxy team that won its fifth and most recent MLS title in 2014. “We want to be champions. I want to be a champion. And then, of course, we need to win as many games as we can, getting as much points as we can.
“If I need to score as many goals as I can, help my teammates with assists, goals, good performances, whatever. We all as an organization need to do to get to the playoffs and then try to gain the sixth championship.”
The team has reached the postseason only once in the last five years, the worst stretch in franchise history. But last year’s failure was probably the most painful because, after spending the entire season in playoff position, the Galaxy were knocked out on the final day on the goal-differential tiebreaker.
Erasing those memories will be a team effort.
“We are not playing here for Chicharito. We’re playing here for LA Galaxy,” said Hernández, whose 17 goals tied for second in the league last season. “It doesn’t matter who scored the goals. It doesn’t matter who could be the MVP. We all here have the same mindset, that we need to qualify for the playoffs. That’s the most important thing.”
Hernández’s last league title came in 2013 with Manchester United. Since then, he has bounced between five teams in four countries and lost his spot with the Mexican national team despite being the country’s all-time leading scorer. If he makes it more than two games into this season, it will mark his longest tenure with one club in nearly a decade.
Coach Greg Vanney, entering his second season with the Galaxy, says he believes Hernández is up to the challenge.
“He’s working very hard. He’s fit,” Vanney said of his captain, who led the team with four goals in the preseason. “He’s showing leadership qualities. He’s working with the players around him.
“With him it’s just managing the season in the right way.”
That means managing Hernández‘s time on the field in training and games to protect the balky calf that caused him to miss nearly half his team’s matches in his first two MLS seasons. Vanney said he’s also going to careful with midfielder Douglas Costa, the team’s biggest offseason signing.
When they’re on the field together, Hernández and Costa could form one of the most dynamic pairings in MLS. But Costa, too, is a player with a history of injuries.
“None of us are under the impression that he’s going to go through an entire season and won’t have a soft tissue injury here or there,” Vanney said of Costa, who is expected to make his MLS debut Sunday. “He’s a Ferrari. He’s not a long-range car.”
Even with a healthy Hernández and Costa, depth will be an issue for the Galaxy, especially in the midfield and at center back. A condensed schedule that will squeeze 34 regular-season games into 32 weeks to accommodate this fall’s World Cup in Qatar will force Vanney to go deep into his roster, just as he did last year when he used 29 players.
If that sounds like an obstacle, it’s one Hernández is embracing.
“I want to transform whatever situations could be around myself to very good energy, to gasoline, to motivation,” he said. “Instead of looking at anything in a very different perspective, my mindset is I’m going to enjoy it, I’m going to give my everything, I’m going to try to improve to be a better guy, a better teammate, a better player, a better leader. Better in every sense.
“You always have good and bad things. So the only thing I want to do honestly, is I want to enjoy, I want to give everything, I want to be a champion. And to do that, I know the price that I have to pay.”
When Mia Fishel left school after her junior year to turn pro, everyone assumed she was going to the NWSL. She chose Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil instead.
Goalkeepers: Jonathan Bond, Jonathan Klinsmann, Richard Sánchez
Defenders: Julián Araujo, Sega Coulibaly, Nick DePuy, Kelvin Leerdam, Raheem Edwards, Marcus Ferkranus, Jalen Neal, Derrick Williams, Jorge Villafaña
Midfielders: Daniel Aguirre, Efraín Álvarez, Mark Delgado, Carlos Harvey, Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan Pérez , Adam Saldaña, Rayan Raveloson, Víctor Vázquez
Forwards: Kévin Cabral, Douglas Costa, Cameron Dunbar, Samuel Grandsir, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Dejan Joveljic