It took a scant few days from the time word leaked that an LA Galaxy delegation led by team president Chris Klein was Spain-bound in an attempt to sign Mexico’s all-time scoring leader Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from Sevilla to the news Friday, reported by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, that a deal had been struck.
This marriage, however, was a decade in the making.
From about the time the “Little Pea” exploded onto the international scene in 2010 — first with Liga MX giant Guadalajara, then with El Tri at the World Cup in South Africa, and lastly with Manchester United, where he scored 20 goals and won the first of his two Premier League titles in his debut season — Chicharito has been seen as the ideal recruit for the most ambitious MLS clubs.
Let’s be clear about how much this signing means to the United States’ and Canada’s top league. Besides a couple of guys named Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there isn’t another player on the planet capable of creating more mainstream buzz or selling more MLS tickets or jerseys than Hernandez. He is uniquely positioned to deliver a stateside impact at least on par with David Beckham, the crossover cultural icon who made the Galaxy a household name in the U.S. and around the world when he left Real Madrid for MLS back in 2007.
Chicharito’s particular value in the North American market might surpass even Beckham’s. The 31-year-old isn’t as big a star globally as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man he’ll nominally replace in Carson. But the nearly 40 million Mexican-Americans living within the United States who have helped make El Tri the most popular soccer team on both sides of the border revere the baby-faced striker, whose father and grandfather also wore the national side’s famous green shirt.
Hernandez has succeed at the highest levels of the sport. He’s scored huge goals for both Man United and Real Madrid, where he spent the 2014-15 season on loan from the Red Devils. He’s a marketer’s dream come true, a handsome, perfectly bilingual prolific scorer who has spent the last decade performing in front of a global audience.
Competing in the defensively challenged landscape of MLS, it’s not a stretch to think Hernandez is capable of replicating the success of longtime international teammate Carlos Vela, who shattered the single-season goal-scoring record last season, his second with LAFC. (Here’s Chicharito destroying the 2010 MLS All-Stars 18 minutes into his Man United debut.)
Ten years on, his timing and movement off the ball remains impeccable. This should make him about as lethal in the penalty box as the more physical Ibrahimovic. Unlike Zlatan, Chicharito gets involved in the buildup to scoring opportunities and actually defends when his team doesn’t have possession. He also figures to be a better fit with midfielders Cristian Pavon, Sebastian Lletget, fellow El Tri veteran Jonathan dos Santos and Aleksandar Katai, who was acquired recently from the Chicago Fire.
If there’s any negative to Chicharito finally arriving in MLS, it’s that it didn’t happen sooner. More than a few clubs made approaches over the years, with Orlando City probably coming the closest to landing him in 2015. (The Fire, in particular, have to be kicking themselves for losing out to the Galaxy this time around.) It was actually surprising that a transfer didn’t happen 18 months ago, after Mexico’s run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was over.
Instead Hernandez inked deals with middling clubs like West Ham and more recently Sevilla, for which he has not appeared since early November. He’s at the tail end of his prime now, the same age Beckham was when he signed, providing easy ammunition for those who dismiss MLS as a league dominated by aging stars no longer willing or able to compete at an elite level.
No matter. When the inevitable became reality, sunny SoCal was always going to be the likeliest landing spot. It’s the perfect place for Chicharito to prove that he can still play. He’ll score a ton of goals on the field in L.A., and charm fans, broadcasters and sponsors off it. Those nationally televised rivalry matches with LAFC will somehow be even more compelling now. Hernandez is the genuine article, and at long last he’s here. Better late than never.
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