The 2021 MLS season presented a mixed bag for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and the LA Galaxy. As they're set to begin their 2022 season on Sunday (5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes) against New York City FC, the Mexican star will be looking to find more consistency this time around.
On one hand, the 32-year-old forward had a stellar individual campaign, netting 17 goals in 21 games to nearly win the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi. It was an emphatic bounce-back after an injury-shortened arrival in 2020, when he played just 758 minutes and scored two goals.
However, Chicharito's standout season also ended in heartbreak. The Galaxy missed qualifying for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in Decision Day's final moments, courtesy of Real Salt Lake's last-gasp game-winning goal at Sporting Kansas City. They also drew Minnesota United FC, leaving Mexico's all-time leading scorer focused on rectifying that painful ending heading into 2022.
"For us, we learned a very hurtful lesson last season," Hernandez told reporters on an MLS is Back media call. "We were the only team that was in playoff position until the last second when Salt Lake scored that last-minute goal in the last match. So we learned that hurtful lesson, so we just want to maintain all the good and positive things that we did last season and of course improving the other ones so we cannot experience that same moment like we did last season. We want to make it to the playoffs, and we want to try and win that sixth championship.
"For me every single day, I'm trying to give it my best, to be in the best shape mentally, tactically and get the soccer skills in the best way possible. That's the only thing I have in my mind, that's the commitment I have to this organization, to this team, to this family. I want to give my best. What is in my control is that: my commitment, my professionalism, taking care of my body and hopefully I can arrive at the best confidence, best mental health, clean, just very present to do what I love most."
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While Chicharito would love to be in Golden Boot contention again this season, that ambition comes secondary to the Galaxy's greater dreams of competing for trophies. The five-time MLS Cup winners have reached the playoffs just once from 2017-21.
"I scored 17 goals in 21 games and I was home watching the playoffs at my place, so it didn't change a thing," Hernandez said. "The most important objective and goal is the team, always. If I score only five goals during the season and I have great performances and help my team and we qualify for playoffs, I'd trade that for just winning the Golden Boot and going home without playing playoffs, without being a champion. For me, my mind is always the organization dream, the group dream, my family dream, that is qualifying for playoffs and then trying to win the sixth championship for this organization.
"Of course for that we need to go step by step and every one of us, we need to be in the best shape possible, to give the best of us. It's very clear for me, I just want to qualify for playoffs, have a good season. If the numbers come and it helps my team, that's amazing. If it's not, that would be amazing too. I want LA Galaxy to qualify for the playoffs and I want to be an important part of it."
To that end, the Galaxy have been active this offseason as headlined by landing Brazilian winger Douglas Costa on loan, with the Designated Player deal officially announced Feb. 10.
The 31-year-old attacker is expected to be a key fixture in offering Hernandez support alongside fellow DP Kevin Cabral, bringing plenty of pedigree along with him. Costa is well-known globally, having featured for the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus, plus earning 31 caps for Brazil.
"I think [Costa] is going to be a huge boost for the LA Galaxy and as well for the league," Hernandez said of his new teammate. "When you have big names coming into this league, it improves a lot the level of each team and the competition. So I think it's going to be a huge, huge boost. But as well without putting all the pressure on his shoulders.
"He knows he comes over here to do what he loves most, that is play soccer, to give the best that he can at the moment. And then obviously we're all going to help this organization to try and win games, to be at the top of the league, qualify for playoffs. So of course he's going to be a huge, huge boost for us."