Watching MLS, even I can’t hate on Chicharito anymore

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
Illustration: Getty Images

As I’ve said, I’m really doing my best to follow MLS more closely this year. What I had forgotten is that the opening weeks of the season often resemble the opening month of the NHL season, and can be tons of fun. For the non-hockey inclined, October hockey (when the season is normally starting) is perhaps the most entertaining portion before the playoffs. That’s because it’s so hard to make up ground in the standings later in the season so teams want to establish their position early, and they go all out to get wins in the season’s first four to six weeks.

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MLS kind of works in the same way, and if you can get to the top of the standings, or near it, at least in the opening throes of the season, it becomes hard to sink from them as the summer kicks in and the urgency (again) is slowly sapped from the schedule until the playoff whiff is in the air in the fall.

There were 44 goals in 13 games this weekend, or 3.3 per game. That’s kind of astronomical. The best story coming out of the league so far may be Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who collected a hat trick yesterday in a 3-2 win for the Galaxy over the New York Red Bulls, to go with the two he posted up last week against Inter Miami.

As a USMNT fan, I have basically abhorred Chicharito ever since he came on the scene. Playing for the team I hate most in the world, Man United, didn’t help. The fact that I was sure he didn’t do anything other than pop up three yards from goal to tap one home sealed the deal (but even if it was just that, which it wasn’t, that takes rare skill and instincts).

So when Chicharito basically was a tub of goo last year for the Galaxy, it felt like a small victory. Here he was at a still-supposed-to-be-useful 32 and he was washed up.

Yet, Hernández’s apparent rebirth is a great story, because he was going through a personal hell last year. Among other things, he was injured and his family moved back to Australia, where his wife is from, which couldn’t be much farther away.

Chicharito gave an interview after the win in Miami where he got very emotional, showing the toll that last year took on him and how relieved he was to be at full strength and focused this year. MLS is often seen as a retirement home, a place for former stars to cash a check, sell some tickets, and ride off into the sunset. Hernández shows that this stint with the Galaxy means so much more to him than that.

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So I’m rooting for him. He’s a guy who wants the best for his career and team and fans, and he cares. Not every player of his stature who has pulled on an MLS jersey has. I never thought I’d say it.