Most of the two dozen players who dressed for the Galaxy’s first day of training camp Tuesday were just loosening up when the team formally confirmed the worst-kept secret in soccer: It had signed Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the Mexican national team’s all-time leading scorer.
And though Hernández won’t arrive until Wednesday evening and isn’t scheduled to train until Thursday, he was the one player on everyone’s mind Tuesday.
“He’s a killer. One of the smartest players I know,” said Galaxy captain Jonathan dos Santos, who counseled Hernández on the signing.
“Great news,” added midfielder Perry Kitchen. “It’s a great move. Everyone’s excited to sign a player of that caliber. I’m sure he’ll fit right in.”
But perhaps the player most looking forward to meeting Hernández was midfielder Joe Corona, who literally agreed to give his new teammate the shirt off his back.
Hernández has worn No. 14 for most of his career, selling tens of thousands of jerseys over that time. With the Galaxy, that number belonged to Corona. In baseball, players have been known to swap expensive watches, motorcycles, even cash for their favorite digits, a fact Corona intends to share with Hernández.
“That’s a conversation we’ll have once he gets here,” Corona said. “I’m still waiting for my Rolex.”
The rest of the team would be happy if Hernández brings them a trophy and a ring, two things the Galaxy haven’t seen in more than five years.
“A player with the career that he has had — what he’s done in Europe, what he’s done obviously with the national teams — it’s very important for us to be able to count on a player with that level,” general manager Dennis te Kloese said in Spanish.
“For him, this is an important moment.”
An important moment because, at 31, Hernández’s career has either reached a crossroads or a dead end. For all of his success with Mexico and in Europe with Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen, Hernández hasn’t started regularly since 2016-17 and he’s scored more than 13 goals in a season just once since 2012-13.
As Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s replacement, he figures to get both playing time and scoring opportunities with the Galaxy. That’s why Te Kloese, who has known Hernández and his family since the player’s days in Guadalajara’s youth program, began targeting him late last fall.
“He’s been in and out of squads and he’s been on and off the bench. He’s achieved a lot. He’s had championships. He’s a world-recognized player. And he’s a guy that, if you want to play offensive football, he is a dangerous guy,” Te Kloese said.
“For any player to have confidence, it’s important,” he added. “You have to have the total support of the club, the team, the coaching staff.”
He wasn’t getting that at Sevilla, his latest European stop, where he had started just two league matches since October, a month after the Spanish club paid England’s West Ham United $8.7 million for his rights. But because Monchi, Sevilla’s director of soccer, is a shrewd player on the transfer market known for buying talent and flipping it for a profit months later, Te Kloese figured a deal could be had.
However he worried the timing, during the winter transfer window, was wrong.
“It’s not a very easy task for us in MLS to go into Europe in a winter break and get high-profile players,” he said. “Normally the answer is ‘wait until the summer.’ ”
With training camp opening this week and the season starting next month, the Galaxy couldn’t wait. So Te Kloese offered a franchise-record transfer fee of approximately $10 million and a contract that could approach $7.5 million a season with bonuses and incentives — and closed the trade in a matter of weeks.
Now Hernández gets a new start in Southern California, home to more than 6 million Mexican-Americans and a place where he’s already a star.
“This is a very specific place we’re at in L.A., with so many Mexicans. I don’t have to tell you who Javier is and what he can bring,” Te Kloese said. “But how big his impact will be will be defined by how good he can be on the field. And that is the main thing for us: to have a very, very good striker on the field.
“This is the moment for him to come here.”