Gerardo “Tata” Martino and the executive leadership of the Mexican soccer federation weren’t present at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon, but they were central players in the day’s drama just the same.
In the wake of the latest reports out of Mexico that he remains off the national team’s radar, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez played the star in downtown Portland, putting on a striker’s clinic of penalty-box movement and finishing efficiency with a well-taken brace that led the LA Galaxy to a 3-1 win over the Timbers.
“Since I've been here, Javi’s been great. I mean, the run that he makes on the first goal he scores is absolutely top class,” said Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney after what he called a “chaotic” and “unstable” game marked by some controversial refereeing decisions from Nima Saghafi and his crew. “Anybody who hadn’t paid attention to his run, he ran the center back off to the near post and peeled off of his backside. I don't know, there's only a couple forwards in our league who move like that and make actions like that.
“He's obviously playing at a high level and he's capable of scoring goals.”
In a ragged, breathless affair in which both sides finished with 10 men, Chicharito’s quality was the defining factor as he ran his season total to four goals in LA’s first five games and the Galaxy broke a two-match losing skid to jump back into the top three in the Western Conference table. Asked about El Tri’s ongoing snub of his star attacker, Vanney took the high road but made clear how much he’s valued in Carson.
“Who Tata chooses to bring into the national team and why and why not is his own decisions. But we appreciate the work that Javi has been putting in for us, and the goals that he has been scoring,” said Vanney. “We want to keep him in that frame of mind and keep him sharp, and so the more chances we create and more times we get into these good spots, his running is so good that he makes sometimes finishing look easy, but it's really the work that he does prior to the actual finish that's just amazing stuff.
“I don't know what to say about Mexican national team stuff, those are their choices, but we're happy with the way he’s playing for us.”
Noting the rising tide of fans and pundits wondering why he continues to be left out of a Mexican side that struggled to score goals in the Concacaf Octagonal phase despite successfully qualifying for this fall’s World Cup in Qatar, a journalist asked Hernandez in Spanish how he’s responding to the snub.
“On that topic, like I’ve said for many years now, it’s always the same answer. I’m trying to do things in the best way, like my father and my grandmother taught me, to be eligible and to do things in the best way and that’s it,” said Chicharito, El Tri’s all-time leading scorer with 52 career goals. “There is not going to be a different answer to what’s on my mind and in my heart.”
The 33-year-old was otherwise his usual ebullient self postgame, nodding in the direction of the Rose City faithful as he expressed his appreciation for one of MLS’s most atmospheric venues. Focus now shifts towards another such occasion: Next weekend Chicharito and the Galaxy welcome their crosstown rivals LAFC to Dignity Health Sports Park for 2022’s first edition of El Trafico.
“It’s very, very precious going to Portland and get[ting] a win,” said Hernandez. “The atmosphere is always incredible because they have very good supporters, they support the team pretty, pretty well. You can feel that they are used to be fighting for championships. The only fault is the [synthetic] turf that I don't like, obviously, I love the natural and I'm used to it.
“But that's the only fault, because then the atmosphere is amazing. The weather is even cool as well, if it's cloudy or not. Feels like a very good soccer atmosphere. So to come here, take the three points, it's amazing. It's an amazing feeling and as well to bounce back after two very difficult losses. And now this result is going to give us a lot of confidence for the Trafico.”
Vanney said his players haven’t wavered in their self-belief despite back-to-back losses to Seattle and Orlando, though a win in Portland nonetheless sends them into a big week in the best possible frame of mind.
“They're a gritty team, they're an experienced team and they had a very experienced lineup out there today,” he said. “The game never really settled into for much in terms of long stretches or reasonable stretches where there was real clarity in terms of again, a lot of it's just the function and operation of the game. So I was happy we grinded and battled and dealt with the situations we need to.
“It's a good confidence jolt for us – which I don't know if we needed, I think our guys have been happy with the way we’ve played – but it's always nice to get three points. And now we prepare and everybody, it doesn't take much to get our guys up for the game that's coming next week, and our fans and everybody else. So I think we'll ride this little wave of three points into the week."