FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — All it took was 73 minutes.
Trying to change last season’s narrative, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez kicked off his 2021 MLS campaign with a pair of second-half goals to ignite a Los Angeles Galaxy rally in a 3-2 win against Inter Miami.
Chicharito tallied only two goals in all of 2020, which generated nothing but negative attention toward Mexico’s all-time leading scorer. But in the build-up to the season, Hernandez, who said he’s at his best physically and mentally, promised change.
Sunday on a tough 90-degree day in South Florida, he delivered.
His first goal was an ode to what made him such a renowned striker — a run in the box, beating the defender to the ball and using his skill to stick it in the back of the net:
The second goal was more about being in the right spot at the right time, as a rebound bounced right to his feet at the far post for him to put away:
Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan secured the three points when his shot kissed off the post in the 81st minute.
But this was more than just an opening road win for the Galaxy.
This was about Hernandez regaining form and living up to expectations everyone eagerly placed on him when he signed with the Galaxy. On top of navigating the pandemic and injuries last year, Chicharito admitted dealing with the death of his grandfather weighed heavily on him.
“Everything that I have done so far is worth it,” he said after Sunday’s win. “Even that bad year helped me so much to improve. If we don’t have bad moments, where’s the improvement?”
Getting the Galaxy back to their championship standards will be a long process, and head coach Greg Vanney will be the first to tell you they’re not jumping the gun after Sunday.
After all, it’s what he told the players.
“In a nutshell, I told them to remember this feeling, and everything that they laid on the field today to get to it,” Vanney said. “It’s an emotion I want them to remember.”
Ask those who were part of the squad last year and they’ll tell you the energy around this current group is different. There’s a certain type of camaraderie that was lacking before. Even then, Vanney can help shape the culture, but it’s up to the players to bring that energy on the pitch.
And like it or not, that begins and ends with how Chicharito is performing. Last season was all the proof the Galaxy needed to see how low things could get.
“I never felt that I was the worst player last season, and right now I don’t feel that I’m the best player at all,” Chicharito said. “I’m just Javier Hernandez, Chicharito, who knows how to play soccer, knows what to do inside the pitch to help my teammates, and just wants to be the better version of himself every single day.”
That version rescued what was shaping up to be another lackluster Galaxy performance, unimaginative in the final third and doomed to drop points as a result.
Then Chicharito worked his magic. In 2020, he didn’t look capable. In 2021, he already looks like the Galaxy’s ticket back to playoff contention.
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