The most popular Mexican soccer player to ever kick a ball in Southern California has never played in MLS.
Jorge Campos was the first Mexican to do that, starring for the Galaxy in the league’s first two seasons. And Carlos Vela is the latest, setting scoring records for LAFC in that team’s first two seasons.
But neither reached the demigod status Javier Hernandez achieved here, where his national team jersey has been among the bestselling through the last two World Cups.
“I didn’t know that,” Hernandez — best known as Chicharito — said when given that information in a recent phone call.
Hernandez, 31, is in Spain, not MLS, three months into a three-year contract with Sevilla that will reportedly pay him $3.3 million a season, less than half of what he made last season at West Ham. When the deal ends in 2022, he’ll be 34.
By then Hernandez will likely be well past the crossroads that have kept many players in Europe over MLS.
Although he’s Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, his meaningful days with the national team may be over. He hasn’t appeared in a competitive match for Mexico in more than 16 months and played in just three friendlies this year, his fewest since 2009.
And he’s still finding his footing in Sevilla, appearing in 10 of the team’s 19 games in all competition heading into Sunday’s match with Leganes.
All that suggests a move to MLS would be the natural next step for a player whose popularity, good looks and fluency in English and Spanish would make him the best thing to hit the league’s marketing department since Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So has Hernandez thought about it?
“Yes. Definitely,” he said. “Look, I am always thinking about my future. I want to be as open as I can to any opportunity.
“MLS is a league that is improving. It is an opportunity. Every league is an opportunity.”
And the most obvious MLS opportunity would be with the Galaxy, a team in the middle of another winter makeover.
The loss of Ibrahimovic — who made more than double what Chicharito will earn this season — leaves them without a scorer or a box-office draw at a time when the team, playing in the largest Mexican market outside Mexico City, is losing the battle for local soccer hearts and minds to LAFC and Vela, its Mexican star.
Plus no MLS executive knows Hernandez better than Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese, who was scouting director at Chivas de Guadalajara when Hernandez was part of its youth program, then worked for Mexico’s national soccer federation during Chicharito’s prime.
However a Galaxy spokesman said last week Hernandez is not currently in their plans. And if he were, he could cost them a handsome transfer fee paid to Sevilla, which has made itself into a top club by mastering the art of buying low and selling high.
Spanish soccer has long been dominated by two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, whose deep pockets allowed them to sign players such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Sevilla, meanwhile, entered the 21st century playing in the second division, so far in debt it looked as if it would have to sell its stadium to pay its bills.
After surviving that financial crisis, the team’s budget is still less than half of what Barcelona spends. But Sevilla has made up for it by being smarter, playing the transfer market as well as — or better than — any team in Europe and winning three of the last six Europa League titles along the way
It’s unbeaten five games into this season’s continental tournament.
“The key to the success is being able to know how to improve ourselves and having intuition,” said Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi, who is the club’s director of soccer.
Under Monchi, Sevilla has become the Oakland A’s of soccer, finding value where others see risk.
“Our objective is to be a different and rebellious club, a club that does things its own way and knows how to compete with clubs who have bigger resources,” said Monchi, who began his latest rebuilding project last spring, returning to Sevilla after two years at Roma.
Among his last acquisitions this summer was Hernandez, who came on a reported $8.5-million transfer in September. MLS, it appears, will have to wait.
Monchi is fine either way.
“Javier will give us a lot because at 31 years old, I see him at the peak of his career. He arrived completely convinced by the project. Rarely have I seen a player who has sacrificed so much to sign for this club,” he said, referencing the pay cut.
“How he has gambled on coming to Sevilla, it’s a huge example of the level the club is now at.”
Given the level the Galaxy are now at, Chicharito is a gamble the club would be wise to consider.