Javier Hernandez is animated. He's been doing interviews all day, in between training sessions and of course, his personal life that includes hundreds of non-soccer-related media appearances. It would be completely understandable if he showed a smidgeon of fatigue for this particular conversation.
On the contrary, Chicharito is raring to go. "Let's chat a little bit! Let's do this!"
The truth is, you couldn't expect anything less from Mexico's all-time scorer and the face of LA Galaxy. Chicharito has been in the limelight for most of his professional career, and his popularity skyrocketed to global notoriety, ever since he left Chivas Guadalajara for Manchester United more than a decade ago.
Now, in his second season in the U.S. after a difficult year, which didn't just include an injury-ridden debut for the Galaxy and a disappointing (he'll admit it himself) start to his MLS campaign, but also the effects of a pandemic and how it affected his own family, Chicharito is in a great place.
"I'm in a balanced, great spot to start the season," says the 32-year-old, who still looks nowhere close to that. "In all aspects of my life, emotionally, mentally and physically, I have been preparing so hard for this season. So I'm good."
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One thing Chicharito doesn't want to do is offer a blind promise to Galaxy fans. He knows he didn't deliver last year (scoring twice in 12 matches with only seven starts) and it's even harder when you follow Zlatan Ibrahimovic's tenure. But this was never going to happen. Forget the goals, both are extremely different strikers, who rely on specific personnel in order to get the best out of them. Add the fact that COVID-19 played the biggest protagonist last year and 2020 was just meant to be too much of a hurdle for the Mexican to truly show what he can do.
But now, it's about pressing the reset button. Or rather, it's time to play a brand new song.
"I know when I'm saying this [that I feel good] and everything is going to be great, and I know about sports and I have never been scared to say how I feel, how I see myself, hopefully I can just show that day by day and game by game...that's all we want," he says, while also stressing the value of togetherness. In the end, it's not just about him. "Of course we know this is a team sport and we all need to do our best, and we are doing it right now, preparing ourselves so yeah, the future looks brighter for us."
Another major factor is the arrival of Greg Vanney, the former Galaxy star, who was drafted from UCLA, and former Toronto FC manager, who won MLS Cup in 2017 with the Canadian side and was honored as CONCACAF Coach of the Year. Chicharito now has a head coach who knows this league inside and out, and this is going to be crucial for his productivity.
So has it been working with him so far?
"Amazing," says Chicharito. "I've been saying this in other interviews so I really want to emphasize this: apart from all his knowledge like skills, drills and tactics, the way that he's managing the squad..he gives you an open book of, 'you do what you feel you want to do,' inside and outside the pitch. He sees you as a product but he doesn't forget that we're also human. From how old you are to what language you speak, whether you have kids or not, everything, he's managing the squad so well, so accurately and I think that's going to help us bring it out of each player and teammates and develop our skills...and then we can enjoy playing inside the pitch, being ourselves and hopefully we can qualify for the playoffs and then get this club where it belongs."
That's Chicharito's main objective, to finally help restore the Galaxy to the status that most MLS fans remember them for, the most successful club in league history. The Galaxy have a record five MLS Cups, eight Western Conference regular season titles, four Supporters' Shields, two U.S. Open Cups and one CONCACAF Champions' Cup title, but the last MLS Cup was 2014, with a team that included Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and a young Gyasi Zardes.
Since then, it's been a different story and in 2017, the club earned MLS's Wooden Spoon for finishing bottom of the table. There's been improvement since then and Ibrahimovic's arrival did ignite much of what was missing, but now, it's Chicharito's turn.
"This club belongs on the top of the table, fighting for titles, that's what the LA Galaxy is all about," says the Mexican, who thanks to his days with Manchester United and Real Madrid knows all too well about playing for a historically important club.
The other important part for Chicharito is the city of Los Angeles itself and its Mexican-American population, the biggest in the country. The relationship he has with the community is very important. "The Mexican and Latino people over here are amazing. It's unbelievable. It's actually one of the reasons why I took this opportunity to play for LA Galaxy, because it's living in your country in a way. Sometimes you speak more Spanish than English," says Chicharito. "The culture, the food, the locals, everything. The way LA is, is perfect for me."
There is of course another MLS team in LA, and another Mexican who feels exactly the same way. LAFC and Carlos Vela, who arrived to the league in 2018, have now helped revitalize the energy of the city's footballing culture in MLS. Chicharito obviously is excited at the prospect of playing in El Trafico, the derby between both sides, on May 8th.
"It's actually my first Clasico because I didn't play last season because of my injury, the pandemic" says Chicharito. "So it's gonna be so cool, so special, and hopefully on May 8, more people will come to the stadium because of course we miss them so much. They're a key part of this game, this atmosphere. I've been playing this sport since I was a kid so I know too well that fans are one of the most important parts of this game."
Add Angel City FC, the women's franchise that aims to enter the NWSL in 2022 at Banc of California stadium (also LAFC's home) and Los Angeles is becoming a mecca for domestic soccer.
But that's for others to discuss. For Chicharito, there is only goal:
"To do as much as I can and help my team [reach MLS Cup]," he says. "I don't know how this season is going to go. All I know is that I'm going to be in the best shape and I'm going to try and give as much - or EVERYTHING - that I can to help my team and achieve that. Because every game is about three points. Because it's not about how many goals Chicha has, or how many assists Jonathan (Dos Santos) has or how well Sebastian (Lletget) played, it's about the score sheet. It's about LA Galaxy gaining points, and that's the only thing in my mind, to help my team as much as I can and get my team to win as many games as we can."
LA Galaxy visit Inter Miami this Sunday at 3pm ET at DRV PNK Stadium as MLS 2021 kicks off.