Emotional Chicharito targets ultimate redemption season after opening brace

The emotion was raw, the relief was real. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez wasn’t holding back his feelings in a pitch-side post-match interview on ABC after helping lead the LA Galaxy to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Inter Miami CF Sunday afternoon.

Chicharito scored just two goals in an injury-plagued 2020 season that Mexico’s all-time leading scorer called the most difficult of his storied career, a year that included the death of his grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, in August.

“I’m holding [back] my tears. I suffered the loss of my grandfather, I would love him to keep watching [me] scoring goals,” he said. “I’m very touched because, like I told you, last year was very difficult. I miss him so much and these goals are for him, my kids, my whole family, my friends, everyone. I maintain patience, I keep grinding and thankfully things are coming around and hopefully, like I say, I just want to be a part of an unbelievable season and lift the trophy.”

Following the 2020 season, Chicharito apologized and vowed to bounce back in 2021. New LA Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said he saw the work Chicharito put in during preseason and was thrilled for him to see that hard work pay off Sunday afternoon. 

“For him to kind of take the monkey or gorilla off his back a little bit and to move forward in this first goal and score a couple goals, I couldn't be happier for him,” Vanney said.

Vanney deserves credit, as well, for the tactical switch that created more space for Chicharito to operate. That came when he brought on Ethan Zubak, who spent all of preseason as a wide player, and utilized him as a second striker when he came on as a second-half substitute. 

“The thing about Ethan is not so much about his positional play, it’s more about his willingness to run, and whether it's from a wide position or it's from a central position, he gives us that consistent willingness to run behind, to stretch the opposition,” Vanney said. “If you have center backs or fullbacks who are trying to be aggressive into the space in front of them, he will constantly put those guys in difficult situations.”

Vanney said he recognized Miami’s center back duo of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Nicolas Figal were being released “to deal with our players who are kind of in those half spaces.” That extra space that Chicharito had was exploited, Vanney said, on the first of his two goals, when he stepped in front of Gonzalez Pirez with his first touch before a tidy finish. 

“His willingness to run behind, it changes the game,” Vanney said of Zubak

But all eyes were on Chicharito after the game. After hearing plenty of doubters in an emotional year that not only included the death of his grandfather, but also the birth of his second child, this big stage of a season opener, in front of a boisterous home crowd and a national television audience provided the perfect backdrop to silence those critics.

But Chicharito wasn’t having that after the match. He’s not letting his past failure, or Sunday’s success, define him.

“The only thing that is in my mind is like always balance, calmness, humbleness. 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,” he said. “I’m just Javier Hernandez, Chicharito, that he knows how to play soccer, he knows what to do Inside the pitch to help teammates, and he just wants to be the better version of himself every single day.”