Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez on why MLS now, El Trafico, Liga MX and more

During his decade-long stint in Europe, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s name would often pop up in connection to various MLS clubs. But as Mexico’s all-time leading scorer went from Manchester United to Real Madrid and elsewhere, a return to North America never quite materialized.

That is until Tuesday, when the 31-year-old forward was announced as the latest Designated Player for the LA Galaxy. But why now and why depart Spanish club Sevilla so shortly after joining?

Hernandez answered that question and much more in a wide-ranging sit-down interview with MLSsoccer.com’s Calen Carr, where the superstar bounced conversationally between English and Spanish. As for the timing, Hernandez said multiple factors clicked in a city rich with Mexican culture.

“It’s a very long answer about why the other times it didn’t go through because the other times, MLS has always [had] trust, but then with this club everything was in the perfect [place],” he said. “When they say that when I play I’m always in the perfect time and perfect place to score goals, I think this opportunity had everything. All the aspects, that’s why I didn’t want to wait until the summer. I just wanted to make this come through and finally I’m here with the LA Galaxy. I’m very excited. I was looking forward to do this, to finally put this shirt on and can say I’m finally a LA Galaxy player.”

Connected to the timing, Hernandez addressed the notion of MLS being a retirement league, quickly dispelling that line of thinking. He points no further than longtime friends and Mexico teammates, namely LAFC forward Carlos Vela and Galaxy teammate Jonathan dos Santos. He also mentioned Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez and Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro.

They’re all players who could step into most European clubs and make an impact, just like Hernandez did during the 2010s. Yes, he’ll turn 32 on June 2 and has already been a professional for 15 years, when he made his debut in 2006 for Chivas Guadalajara, but his aspirations and ability aren't wavering.

“I’m not here to retire or do anything less,” Hernandez said. “I’m here to keep growing as a person, as a football player, to achieve everything in this league, to help my team, the coaching staff, the club and the people who have placed all their trust in me to win many championships. Not just one, but many. And why not, in the future be the first, second or third team to go to the Club World Cup or be Concacaf Champions. To aim for the best and the biggest.”

As those ambitions unfold, Hernandez eagerly awaits his first El Trafico match against LAFC on May 16 at Banc of California Stadium. They met in the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, plus the Galaxy hold a 2-1-3 record against the Black-and-Gold since they joined the league in 2018.

The match will put Hernandez against Vela, and he’s already beaming with confidence. 

“It’s going to be fun for us and even more for the LA Galaxy fans because we are going to take three points from every game we play in,” he said. “Carlos and I have known each other and been friends since we were 14 or 15 years old, not to mention everything we experienced together with the national team. Now we’re going to be closer, but he knows that I’m coming to the biggest team in MLS and the biggest team in Los Angeles, so we’ll see what happens in the Clasicos.”

Hernandez also spoke about legacies, not only his own but also that of MLS writ large as it competes against Liga MX for continental supremacy. It’s been a decade since he last competed in the latter for Chivas, but he’s noticed the growth from afar via competitions like Campeones Cup and Leagues Cup. There’s also the 2020 MLS All-Star Game in Los Angeles that will see the league’s best compete against Liga MX’s best, rather than a big-name European club.

As that arms race unfolds, Hernandez said both leagues are improving, but MLS has taken bigger steps forward in recent years.

“I think MLS is getting very close,” he said. “I think our country doesn’t want to admit that MLS is getting very close. ... And I think one of the reasons that MLS is growing so good is they learn, for example, from Liga MX and other leagues that they want to dream big and try to make this league as big as it can."

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