'Chicharito' scores first MLS hat trick in Galaxy's victory over Red Bulls

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CARSON, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 25: Javier Hernandez #14 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal in the first half.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernández celebrates after scoring during the first half of a 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday. (Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

A short memory is a necessary attribute for a world-class striker, which is one reason Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has already forgotten his dismal Galaxy debut. But he might want to hang on to the memories from the start of his second season because he’s doing things that have never been done before.

His hat trick in the Sunday’s 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls gave him five goals in the first two games, the fastest start to a season by a player in franchise history. And his undefeated, untied team isn’t far behind: the Galaxy haven’t started a season 2-0 since 2010.

“The past, we're not going to change that,” said Hernández, who scored just twice in 2020. “Right now I'm very focused on the present.”

A present some teammates think could be prelude to something even bigger.

“I’ve been on championship teams before and we have all the characteristics,” said defender Jorge Villafaña, who won an MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers. “The team is together and united as one.”

Their leader, however, is Hernández.

“He’s on fire,” Villafaña continued. “Once that energy gets out there, it pumps us up.”

It also pumped up the fans, who returned to Dignity Health Sports Park in limited number — 6,853, about a quarter of the stadium’s capacity — for the first time in nearly 14 months. For Hernández, that offered a chance to make a second first impression with a group that excoriated him on social media last year.

He played just one home game before fans in 2020 and didn’t manage a shot in that one. On Sunday he got on the scoreboard in the ninth minute, bringing the fans to their feet by sliding on to an Ethan Zubak try that caromed off Red Bulls’ defender Sean Nealis, deflecting it in from a tough angle at the far post.

“Their support, the atmosphere,” Hernández said. “Everything changed.”

The second goal drew an even louder ovation. After Andrew Gutman had pulled the Red Bulls (0-2) even, Hernández put the Galaxy ahead to stay just before halftime by running on to a long cross from Víctor Vázquez — the final pass in a 13-pass sequence — in the center of the box. After knocking the ball down with his right foot, he used his left one to put a shot on goal that Red Bulls’ keeper Carlos Coronel couldn’t handle.

Hernández completed the hat trick at the hour mark with his most acrobatic goal of the season. When a Julian Araujo pass into the box missed Vázquez but struck Red Bulls’ center back Aaron Long, Hernández went airborne at the far post to knock in the rebound.

After picking himself off the turf, Hernández stepped across the end line and posed, arm outstretched, for the fans as he was engulfed by teammates.

“I’m really happy for him,” Villafaña said. “He had a tough season last year.”

Added Zubak: “You can’t ask for something [more] from your star player.”

Actually you can, Hernández corrected afterward. Because now that he’s rediscovered the back of the net and reconnected with the fans, he wants more than goals and cheers, he wants a championship.

And he knows that making that happen depends on him.

“I just want to win games. Winning games, it normally depends on the striker scoring goals,” he said. “As a striker, you want to put yourself in the correct positions. Thankfully that’s happening because of all the great work that we are all doing.”

Those memories might be ones he’ll want to hang on to.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.