In strictly geographical terms, Banc of California Stadium is much closer to Tinseltown than Dignity Health Sports Park.
It’s 22 miles from the LA Galaxy’s home in the South Bay to the Hollywood sign, compared to just over 11 miles from LAFC’s house. And certainly, there’s no shortage of juice in the newer half of El Trafico, from that large ownership group, led by A-listers like Magic Johnson, Larry Berg, Peter Guber and Will Ferrell, to their glittering palace in Expo Park.
But now that the “Since ‘96” crew have reeled in Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, is there really any doubt which club owns the best claim to being FC Hollywood?
The original owner of that title remains Bayern Munich, and there’s ample history behind that. Yet the Galaxy are the unquestioned inheritors of the tag in MLS terms – yes indeed, since ‘96 – as they’ve shown once again by replacing probably the most talked-about star in the history of the league (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) with one of the most lusted-after transfer targets in the history of the league.
In sunny SoCal, both steak and sizzle are required for success, ideally in symbiosis. In this case, the El Trafico sequel probably needs to be just as much of a blockbuster as the first run. For anyone wondering how the Galaxy-LAFC rivalry could top the delirious drama of the last two seasons — full of spectacle, symbolism and just a bit of spite — or how the five-time MLS Cup winners would respond to Carlos Vela lighting several all-time league records on fire in 2019, now an answer is beginning to take shape.
Even if you set aside the daunting matter of replacing Ibra, not only on the field but at the ticket booths and cash registers, bringing in Chicharito is a coup unto itself. This is one of MLS’s all-time white whales. The Mexican icon is a classy striker and for most of his adult life has been the poster boy of El Tri – who, as I needn’t remind most of you, are the most crowd-pleasing soccer team in North America, and by some margin. Just ask Kobe:
Kobe Bryant sobre el Chicharito a la MLS 👇 pic.twitter.com/ik8Eey2UmH— Instagram @IvánKasanzew (@elcondek) January 15, 2020
A third-generation Mexican international, no one has scored more World Cup goals for El Tri than Chicharito. No one has scored more goals for El Tri, period (52 and counting, in 109 caps). And through it all he’s managed to keep his nose cleaner than most who occupy in that rarified air, a #WholesomeGalactico, if you will, with appeal for the whole family.
He was a teenage starlet at Chivas Guadalajara, then a dogged campaigner across Europe's biggest leagues, from Manchester United to Real Madrid to Bayer Leverkusen to West Ham to Sevilla. And now he will pack houses across the USA.
He’s got an old friend, teammate and future El Trafico nemesis waiting for him in LA, who just happens to have set a new bar for what a Designated Player can be. In 2019, Vela smashed the MLS single-season records for goals (finishing with 34 regular-season strikes), goals per game, goals+ assists (49) and won the MLS MVP award as LAFC romped their way to the Supporters’ Shield.
Really excited for this photo to get used before every El Tráfico. pic.twitter.com/FgGIEyR7Ac— Zack Goldman (@ThatDamnYank) January 16, 2020
Chicharito is not going to drop instant-headline quote bombs in the press, or attempt to verbally/psychologically/physically disassemble opponents on a week-to-week basis like Ibra. Still, he could easily score at an even higher rate here than the big Swede, who averaged nearly a goal per 90 minutes over 56 regular-season MLS matches. And as a younger, more mobile and more complete player at this stage of his career, I expect Hernandez to make the Galaxy – who were fun but fundamentally flawed during Zlatan’s tenure — a better side overall.
Take it from none other than Vela himself.
“He's a scoring machine,” Vela noted of Hernandez this week, “and also, he does a really good job defending for his team.”
Chicharito doesn’t possess Ibra’s planet-sized ego, nor his freakish blend of size, athleticism and technique. But he’ll work far harder off the ball, whether pressing and tracking back in defense or pulling back lines apart in possession and forcing opponents to make difficult decisions in the run of play. Perhaps no one in North American soccer is cleverer about creating, recognizing and exploiting space, particularly in the penalty box, as ESPN documented in this segment in 2013:
Does Chicharito's arrival fix the chronic, crippling defensive issues that have let the Galaxy down over and over in recent seasons? Of course not! If they don’t sort that out, they’ll probably be back in the same quandary of having to outscore their opponents week in, week out – and no one will remind you of this quicker than the club’s hardcore fans.
But right now, who cares? This sequel looks like a blast, and anyone would be crazy not to green-light it straightaway. Grab the popcorn — and since this is L.A., maybe some elote and a bacon-wrapped hot dog, too — and let’s dig in.