EDITOR'S NOTE: Before you know it, February 29 will be here. That's the kickoff to the 25th season in Major League Soccer history and we're getting you ready for the 2020 campaign with the stories, personalities and questions that will leave their mark on the season to come.
Technically speaking, Zlatan Ibrahimovic wears US size 13 boots. But it takes a few more numbers to sketch out the true scale of the shoes Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez aims to fill as he settles in with the LA Galaxy:
- 52 goals and 17 assists in 56 league matches over two seasons
- A scoring rate of 0.97 goals per 90 minutes, best of the past decade in MLS
- Best XI selection and MLS MVP finalist in 2018 and 2019
- Best-selling jersey in MLS the past two seasons
- Unprecedented rates of global attention and engagement on social media and beyond
- A 2W-1L-3D overall record in El Trafico showdowns vs. crosstown rivals LAFC (though that one loss was a big one: last year’s 5-3 result in the MLS Cup Playoffs)
- Top scorer in El Trafico history with nine goals
Ibra and Chicha are markedly different players and people, even if they play the same position, so comparisons tell only part of the story. The brash Swede made global headlines, while his successor is expected to galvanize the Mexican-American community in Southern California and beyond. Yet the aforementioned data points help underline the towering expectations facing the Mexican striker in Los Angeles. And his own words up the ante another notch or two.
“This team is capable to go the highest we can imagine,” Hernandez told reporters this week. “I think we can get to the championship.”
MLS Cup ambitions are typically the norm for the Galaxy, and that may ultimately turn out to be both Chicharito’s measuring stick and trump card. Because as enthralling as their past few seasons have been from a drama standpoint, the five-time champs have missed the playoffs in two of them, and haven’t reached the cup final in five years, the longest such drought in their history.
In the meantime, their younger siblings in SoCal’s pro soccer rivalry have vaulted past them.
LAFC enter 2020 as the Supporters’ Shield holders and a top contender for MLS Cup, paced by Chicha’s friend and countryman Carlos Vela, who last year set a lofty bar for individual exploits: 34 goals, 15 assists, league MVP, a litany of broken records in his wake.
“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,” Chicharito declared last month of his impending faceoffs with Vela, showing little interest in avoiding the proverbial bulletin-board material.
A pure finisher with an underrated ability to bring his teammates into the game, Hernandez has scored at a fairly steady clip throughout his career. If that continues, the goals will come in MLS. All else will likely unfold from there.
The Galaxy can surround Hernandez with elite service providers like Cristian Pavon, Aleksandar Katai, Efra Alvarez and others, though questions linger about their defense. The need to outgun opponents week in, week out could pile further pressure onto Chicharito's shoulders. That said, he’s embraced all the high expectations – on and off the field – since the moment he touched down in the United States, and so have his superiors.
“The impact he’s going to have on this community is significant,” Galaxy president Chris Klein told the Los Angeles Times.
“To realize that potential, he has to be very good on the field.”