Bob Bradley: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez will give El Trafico different feel than Zlatan Ibrahimovic

LOS ANGELES — Count Bob Bradley among those delighted to see Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in Major League Soccer — and as a centerpiece of LAFC's “El Trafico” rivalry with the LA Galaxy.

“I think that Chicharito's great for the league,” the LAFC head coach said Friday afternoon following training at the club's facility on the Cal State Los Angeles campus. “And certainly when you think of the rivalry that we have with the Galaxy, and of course, then, the rivalry between Chicharito and Carlos Vela, I think that part's great, you know?"

Bradley also believes Chicharito's Galaxy will have a different personality as a rival than did Zlatan Ibrahimovic's.

“Zlatan, he's so unique, the personal. I mean, he liked to play the villain role, he's pretty good at playing the villain role," Bradley said. "Chicharito, I don't think, is going to play the villain role. He smiles a lot.”

The Galaxy brought in Hernandez, Mexico's biggest recent star and all-time leading international goal scorer, to fill the hole left when Ibrahimovic departed for AC Milan during the offseason. The 31-year-old striker's signing was announced Tuesday, and he was formally introduced during a presentation Thursday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

Vela, widely considered the most technically gifted Mexican player of his era, has been spectacular in two seasons with LAFC and last year led the club to the Supporters' Shield and claimed the league's MVP award by scoring a record 34 goals and assisting 15 more.

While the hype surrounding Chicharito certainly exceeds that of Vela's arrival two years ago, Bradley says he's comfortable with which star his club chose to make as its first signing. 

“Carlos had one of the best seasons ever in MLS last year, and so it's great to see him MVP and get attention, but it's all that seeing Carlos is very much a part of watching us play football," Bradley said. "It's not like they're separate things. Carlos loves that, and we love that. There's some other clubs that are different in those regards. On that end, for all the football fans in Los Angeles, I think it's incredible [that Chicharito has arrived]."

LAFC finally beat the Galaxy, in last year's Western Conference semifinals, after going 0-2-3 in regular-season meetings, but the buzz surrounding the club since its debut in 2018 has been deafening in Southern California. The dynamic attacking style, the fan support for the club, the atmosphere in the stadium and the presence and performance of Vela elevated the newcomers to No. 1 in L.A.

Chicharito's arrival serves as something of a salvo by the Galaxy in the battle for hearts and minds in the region. Not that Bradley sees it in such terms. He's thinking bigger picture on the pitch.

“We make our statement with our football ...,” he said. “We now live in a social media/Kardashian world, [but] there's still if you go watch Barcelona, you see something magical, football-wise, that you will never forget. And in the middle of it is the best player ever [in Lionel Messi], and he's part of that. We want to be sort of like that.

“So salvos and impressions and engagements and likes and that part of the world, I don't understand it, but I'm old, so none of it makes any sense to me.”

Bradley praised Hernandez for “his instincts around the goal,” his “ability to sniff out a chance,” how he can “fool a defender by starting to go one way and cut across him.”

“I see these things,” he said, “and as a result, I've seen a lot of good goals he's scored and now what that can mean for a team.”

And he also notes game planning for him will be a different task than for Ibrahimovic, who had some of his best outings in MLS against LAFC.

“Zlatan [is] such a big presence and so gifted with his feet, but if you physically go in for a play and you're a split second late and you think you can win a ball and you can, he's going to use it to his advantage," Bradley said. “Chicharito, now, it's not going to be that he gains his advantage in those ways. He gets his advantage because he sees opportunities a couple second before, and so the work you do to prepare fits with what happens everyday. How quickly do we react? Do we see certain situations?"


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