He’d plundered goals everywhere he’d gone. Beginning in his native Mexico, on to England, Spain and Germany, and notching up more than a half-century for his country, Javier Hernandez built his reputation on being clinical in the right place at the right time.
That all threatened to derail when he moved to MLS and LA Galaxy last year. Just 2 goals in 12 appearances, and looking all the world like a spent force out to wind down a successful career, Chicharito was not matching the fanfare accompanying his introduction to Stateside soccer.
But looking much fitter and fresher than a year ago, The Little Pea has come back with a bang, literally. Five goals in the first two games of the new MLS season including the fourth hat-trick of his career has set tongues wagging again.
His performance last weekend claimed MLS Player of the Week honours for week 1, and after last night’s three-goal salvo he looks certain to hook the prize for week 2 as well.
For Hernandez who gave an emotional pitch-side interview last weekend, he feels he’d hit rock-bottom and is now on the way back up.
2020 was a horrible season, both professionally and personally, the worst in a career which saw Chicharito become his country’s top goalscorer of all time.
His grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, who scored for Mexico at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, died at 88, his wife Sarah Kohan went home to Australia with the couple’s young children, 20-month-old Noah and 4-month-old Nala and when the Galaxy resumed training last June, Hernandez turned up overweight and out of shape.
Speaking to the LA Times earlier this year Hernandez said, “I experienced, for the first time, the death of someone very close to me.” It was all made worse by not being able to return home for the memorial service because of the coronavirus. “It hit me in very different ways.”
If all of that wasn’t enough, in a false start to his Galaxy career, he picked up the worst injury of his career during the MLS-is-back tournament in Orlando, a grade two tear of his right calf. It didn’t even happen in a game. It was a training injury.
And there was pressure... his $10m transfer from Spain’s Seville for whom he made only 9 appearances, created huge expectation. Not only was he asked to fill the enormous void left by the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he was identified as the player to re-establish the Galaxy’s profile in Southern California’s huge Mexican/American community, much of which had abandoned the club for LAFC and its own star Mexican, Carlos Vela.
Neither target was reached. The Galaxy missed out on play-off football for the third time in four seasons, while Hernández’s jersey was the second-best-selling shirt in MLS, trailing Vela’s.
Hernandez’s comeback speaks to his deep resolve and determination to climb back onto football’s pedestal. He believed if things could disintegrate so quickly, then it was possible to get back on board just as quickly.
After deciding to take full responsibility for what he could control and assembling a team: nutritionist, trainer and an “emotional coach,” pre-season he was often Instagrammed lifting weights, stretching and running in the Hollywood Hills.
“I haven’t worked this hard in my whole life. I haven’t trusted the correct people who can help to elevate my performances, my sleep, health, food and my relationships.”
You can tell. Even his appearance is different. The ‘Little Pea’ looks as fit as a flea.
The player’s resurgence won’t come as a surprise to Manchester United fans, a club where the Mexican was immensely popular and where he really cemented his name. It will however come as a danger sign to all of MLS that Chicharito’s back and ready to score goals aplenty.
His three yesterday came in the midst of an untidy, high-energy encounter with New York Red Bulls in Carson. It was helter-skelter football, fast and furious, just the type where you need to be sharp and alert to make your mark.
Chicharito’s goals were the difference, he was the brightest star in the Galaxy.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 26). Recorded Wednesday evening (21 April), the TBIR team discusses the Nashville SC v CFM clash (with special guest Wes Boling of Nashville SC Radio and Club & County podcast), looks back on the #TORONTO WIN!!!! ... and addresses The Super League Fiasco - Greed, Greed, Greed...
They talk the Montreal football issues of the week and cover all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine Social Media & CHOICES... Don’t miss it!
Every Week - The Ball Is Round... @TBIRMontreal - please follow us for regular, weekly CF Montreal, Canadian, MLS and international content in English!