It’s been a year to forget for the LA Galaxy. The five-time league champions were officially eliminated from Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs contention with Wednesday’s 1-1 home draw vs. Seattle, plus they had already dismissed head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto last month after a 1-8-1 skid pushed them into the Western Conference basement.
It’s due in no small part to the fact that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, their showcase winter signing, has fizzled thus far. Missing large chunks of the season to injury, his well-taken strike vs. the Sounders was just his second goal in 11 MLS matches (seven starts).
Lurid rumors of off-field drama and reports of a potential move to Chivas de Guadalajara, his first-ever club, swirl in the Mexican media. But the Galaxy are keeping the faith in their star striker, general manager Dennis te Kloese told MLSsoccer.com this week.
“We're committed on supporting him, we’re committed on backing him up and coming into a good spot,” said the Dutchman. “And I think he's shown, internally with the conversations that we had, with the commitment that he showed on training, with the commitment to his teammates and with everything that’s been discussed in the last weeks, that he really wants to make something out of this opportunity.
“It’s an enormous opportunity, not only for him but also for us. He can be a great example within the community, he can capitalize on the great history that he has with the [Mexican] national team and with the big clubs he played at, at a level that he's more than capable of playing. We should try to get everything out of him.”
After nearly a decade in Europe, the transition to MLS and life in California has been greatly complicated for Hernandez and his family by the COVID-19 pandemic, his fitness issues and the Galaxy’s wider struggles. While dismissing what he considers the tendency towards sensational reporting in Hernandez’s home country, Te Kloese acknowledges that the 32-year-old has been distracted.
“First of all, I think everybody, every single [player], on a personal level always needs time to adapt,” he said. “And there's no excuse, and there's no argument to say okay it’s been a difficult year – no, because for everybody it's been a difficult year, for every team it's been a difficult year, for every player it’s been a difficult year.
“But I do think that only playing two games and not really being connected to the team, and then going into a pandemic and then not playing a while and then coming back and being injured and having some personal, sad experiences along the way, that obviously hasn't helped,” said Te Kloese, who knows the Mexican landscape well thanks to his stints at Chivas, Tigres and the Mexican Football Federation.
“He knows how to deal with the press. He is responsible for his personal life. We respect him for what he is and what he's achieved and we try to support him professionally.”
A sought-after target for MLS clubs for years, Hernandez’s transfer from Sevilla – on a reported $9.4 million fee – sparked no shortage of hype, and stepping into the role freshly vacated by the larger-than-life figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic raised the stakes even further.
“To replace Ibra with somebody else is already completely different – there's nobody like Ibra,” said Te Kloese. “It’s obviously a whole different set of tools and a whole different approach, even technically on the field, than how you played with Ibra, who I think is somebody that is capable of winning something completely by himself. You see him showing it still [at AC Milan].”
Reporter: Do you envision him (Javier Hernández) being with this team next year?— herculez gomez (@herculezg) October 30, 2020
A min of talking to end with.
“In it’s time. We’ll asses it in the right way “ - Dennis Te Klose
Not exactly a glowing vote of confidence. #LAGalaxy
🎥 vía @LAGalaxy pic.twitter.com/ue295kNxxB
When Te Kloese addressed Chicharito’s situation in a media availability held after Schelotto’s firing last week, some observers interpreted his words of support as guarded. But he refuted that reading and underlined the club’s desire to bring out the best in their big-ticket Designated Player.
“Last week on the media call – I’m a human being also, it's a difficult moment,” said Te Kloese. “If you believe in a coach and a process and you put every single effort in it, right or wrong, with my own responsibilities to a coaching staff, it's not happy, obviously, to go in another direction. We’re committed on making [Hernandez] a success and we're working every day to support him on every single angle.”
The Galaxy are conducting the search for Schelotto’s successor, a process that Te Kloese says will involve input from multiple decision-makers beyond himself. He declined to respond to reports connecting former LA star Robbie Keane to the job and stressed the importance of stability and culture in the choice. Finding the recipe to maximize Chicharito’s skillset is a factor in picking the next head coach, if not the main one.
“He’s not a guy that is really difficult. He’s pretty genuine in his reactions and emotions,” Te Kloese said of Hernandez. “But he needs some comfort and confidence. If you have an important player like him on your roster, he obviously needs – for our culture, also – to trust the person.
“But also I’d like to make it clear that we're not going to hire a coach based on certain players, or one player," he added. "We hire a coach based on what's best for the club, and not only now but in the future. And we're hiring a coach based on what he thinks of the ideology and philosophy and identity of the [Galaxy], and as a person, experience-wise … Chicharito is part of the club. Now we need to do best for the club.”