Brian Schmetzer is hoping that Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez gets held off the scoresheet when his Seattle Sounders take on the LA Galaxy at Lumen Field on Sunday (9 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), but you can still count the head coach among those who have loved watching the forward's early-season exploits in 2021.
After a difficult debut season in MLS, Hernandez is lighting up the league through two weeks, scoring five goals in LA's first two games. Speaking with reporters on a Friday video call ahead of this weekend's matchup, Schmetzer said that an in-form Chicharito just makes the game and the league as a whole that much more compelling.
"I actually like watching and listening and seeing up-close and personal this story," Schmetzer said. "Look, the guy got beat up last year because it cost a lot of money to bring him over here. Was it all his fault, was there some issues with the entire team? It's not just a one-man game, he had other issues that he was dealing with. It's a great story for MLS, it's a great story for the Galaxy, but it's even a better story for Chicharito.
"He is a nice man. I met him a couple times, he's friends with [Sounders assistant coach] Gonzo [Pineda], he's a really great guy and I'm very happy for him. I mean, obviously it makes me nervous a little bit, we've got to plan for an in-form forward, a guy who has scored goals in many different leagues, leading goal-scorer for Mexico, so that side of the story might not be the best story for me. But as a soccer fan, I think it's great, I think it just puts pressure on all the other forwards in the league, teams in the league. How do you stop him? I think it's a great story."
Whether Chicharito maintains his torrid pace on Sunday is just one of many storylines permeating the matchup between two of the Western Conference's early frontrunners.
The match also pits Seattle against first-year Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, who coached against Schmetzer and the Sounders in three different MLS Cups while he manned the sidelines for Toronto FC. Speaking on his own Friday video call, Vanney said that Seattle's new two-forward formation makes the tactical challenge a little bit different, but that many of the tenets that make Seattle a strong team have remained similar.
"Their identity is still their identity, they love to keep possession," Vanney said. "But probably more than anything they do a great job of protecting themselves, not giving up many goals, staying in games and sometimes they take over games, and sometimes they stay in games and they find ways to win it. That's just the experience of their group and what they've done over a number of years now.
"So, with a slightly different shape, it is what it is. For us, we just need to be aware of the different things they might do and prepare ourselves to go there. We want to try to have as much of the ball as we can through the course of the game, but make sure we're trying to move those guys in their backline, create opportunities and, again, protect ourselves. We want to get through a game where we don't give up a silly goal or two and keep it clean and tight. You need to do that when you go on the road and play a team as good as they are."
For the Galaxy, the matchup presents an early measuring stick as to where they stand. Much has been made of LA's 2-0-0 start, which saw them become the only MLS team to take all six points from their first two games. But road matches in Seattle are a different animal than most, and a positive result would provide evidence for Vanney that the hot start is real and sustainable.
They'll also be battling a Sounders team that's inching closer to full-strength, with Schmetzer confirming on Friday that star playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro will feature in Sunday's match after missing each of the first two weeks with a quad strain.
"Concentration for the whole game, taking our chances, because we probably won't have as many chances as we had in the other games," Galaxy midfielder Sacha Klejstan said. "They're a very organized team, they're a very experienced team, they're a team that they bend but they don't break. If you look at their first home game of the season against Minnesota, they could have been down a couple of goals in the first half. They came out in the second half, changed a few things and really crushed Minnesota and put away some really nice goals.
"So a team that's capable of scoring good goals as well, they've got some talented players in attack, [Raul] Ruidiaz especially. I don't know if Lodeiro will be playing or not, but Cristian Roldan has also done a really good job playing that No. 10 role since Lodeiro's been out, covering so much ground and creating chances and all that. So we know it will be a tough game. I think we're prepared for that, we're prepared for the way they play now, 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 or whatever it is, we're prepared for it. So I think it'll be a very good game between two pretty good teams."