David Beckham could not transform the galaxy in the Lakers or Dodgers. Chicharito Hernández won’t either.
This reality should not diminish the imminent treatment of the Galaxy for Hernandez, which will be classified as one of the most important player transfers in the history of Major League Soccer when it is completed.
For now, the league has to know that there are no saviors. The success for the Mexican forward will not be defined as it was for Beckham, who did not fulfill the hope of being able to do for MLS what, for example, Wayne Gretzky did for the NHL.
MLS is a different league than it was at the time.
Less than 10 teams after the Tampa Bay and Miami Fusion riot were hired in 2002, the league now has 26 franchises, with four more in the next two years. Most teams play in their own specific football stadiums. The league has stabilized enough to afford to appreciate the value of gradual progress.
Getting to this point has required the MLS to do more than attract new fans to the sport. The league has also had to convince skeptical soccer fans who watch foreign competitions that their product was worth their time.
While no player has radically changed the image during the night on any of the fronts, the high-profile players in the league have helped.
Beckham’s celebrity improved the image of the league. The constant flow of spectacular goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his funny phrases ensured that football fans who did not follow MLS would periodically remember the existence of the Galaxy.
The world-class talent of Carlos Vela has provided LAFC with the centerpiece of a team that is playing at a level that no domestic franchise had reached before.
And now comes Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who, like Magic and Tiger, is known only by his nickname.
Los Angeles has become home to some of Mexico’s most famous players in recent years, including Vela and the brothers Gio and Jonathan dos Santos, signed by the Galaxy. None is as revered as Hernandez, who has been the face of Mexican football in the last decade.
The last Mexican player of this size to play in the MLS was Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who moved to the Chicago Fire in 2007 at age 34. Hernandez is 31 years old.
While Vela and the Dos Santos brothers began their careers in Europe, Vela with the Arsenal of England and the Dos Santos brothers with the Barcelona of Spain, Hernández entered the professional ranks with Chivas de Guadalajara, one of the two most popular teams of Mexico.
Hernandez was a third generation soccer player. His maternal grandfather, Tomás Balcazar, also played for Chivas and represented Mexico in the 1954 World Cup. His father, also named Javier Hernández, was on the Mexican team of the 1986 World Cup.
Hernandez scored twice in the 2010 World Cup, after which he moved to Manchester United of England.
While Vela refused to play for the Mexican national team during a four-year period that included the 2014 World Cup, Hernandez became a pillar in El Tri. And while Gio Dos Santos developed a reputation for low performance, Hernández became the top scorer of all time in Mexico.
Hernández became a nomad in recent years, his most recent movement took him to Seville from Spain, where he found himself planted in the bank and looking for an escape. His diminished role in Seville came at an opportune moment for the Galaxy, which had to replace the late Ibrahimovic.
As long as he stays healthy, Hernández imagines that he will be a productive player for the Galaxy, unlike the late Gio dos Santos. While Hernandez is three seasons from his last season of goals of more than 10 and his speed has diminished with age, his intelligent move out of the ball should make him a constant scorer in the defensively flawed MLS.
Hernandez will be well positioned to capitalize on that production. He is known as a more willing and attractive spokesperson than the cooperative but naturally reluctant Vela, which should give the Galaxy more opportunities to connect with a local Mexican population that still considers Mexico’s MX League as their favorite football league. It is also comfortably bilingual, which should make it attractive in multiple demographic groups.
The Galaxy will not beat Chivas or Club América as Mexico’s favorite team. The five-time MLS champions will not jump like the Lakers or the Dodgers as the Los Angeles team.
But they don’t have to. Like Beckham and Ibrahimovic before him, Hernandez will make MLS more relevant than it was before. That’s enough. MLS does not require savings. You just have to keep moving forward. And if the league can advance five steps instead of one because of Hernandez, that should be considered a win.