The Galaxy are no strangers to big events and big players.
No team has played in more MLS Cup finals (nine) or won more titles (five). It altered the direction of the league when it signed David Beckham and altered the direction of the franchise when it signed Robbie Keane.
The Galaxy made Bruce Arena the winningest coach, Landon Donovan the winningest player and Zlatan Ibrahimovic the best-paid player in league history.
About a thousand raucous fans crowded the Tom Bradley International Terminal on Wednesday night when Hernández’s British Airways flight from London touched down — so many that the player was forced back inside the terminal for his own safety. More than 160 media members were credentialed for his introductory news conference Thursday afternoon — so many that some reporters had to stand on chairs to see the dais.
In between, Hernández, wearing a bright blue Galaxy warm-up suit and surrounded by a phalanx of security guards, jogged onto a practice field where he was welcomed by his teammates, thenjogged off 15 minutes later without breaking a sweat.
“It’s incredible,” a clearly emotional Hernández said of the reception. “It’s incredible when you can create all of this doing what you love. I’m blessed. I’m grateful. I’m very touched. I’m very moved about that.
“I was a kid. I know what that means for a lot of people.”
It may mean more for a Galaxy team that hasn’t played in an MLS Cup final in five seasons, a record-long drought. In Hernández, it’s making a major down payment for a trip back there.
“At the Galaxy, we’re a big club. And as a big club we feel an obligation that we need to make big decisions and make big investments,” said Dan Beckerman, president of AEG, the team’s parent company.
“When we need a striker, we don’t ask ourselves who’s available or who’s out of contract. We get to ask ourselves, ‘If you could have any striker in the world, who would you want to have?’ ”
In 2011 the answer to that question was Keane, who led the team to three titles in four seasons. Two years ago the answer was Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 goals in 56 games. This time the answer was Hernández, and once again money was not an object, with the Galaxy paying a $10 million transfer fee and a minimum of $18 million in salary over the next three seasons to pry him away from Spanish club Sevilla.
With bonuses and an option for a fourth season, it could prove the most significant commitment to one player in team history.
“We’re not shy about making investments in players and seeking the best talent in the world and paying them accordingly,” said Beckerman, whose team’s massive ambition and free-spending ways have made it the New York Yankees of U.S. soccer.
Whether this latest investment pays off remains to be seen.
Keane, Donovan and Beckham proved to be bargains despite their high price tags. Giovani dos Santos and Steven Gerrard proved to be expensive busts.
For now, Hernández is eliciting nothing but smiles. He comes to MLS as the most popular Mexican national team player in recent history, the country’s all-time leading scorer, a three-time World Cup starter and a standout in three of Europe’s biggest leagues. His crossover appeal in Southern California, home to more Mexicans than anywhere outside Mexico City, is unrivaled and immediately makes him one of the biggest names in a city that includes LeBron James, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout
At the same time, he’s 31, has played his way off the national team, hasn’t scored more than eight goals in a season since 2016-17 and started just one league game for Sevilla since October.
“The impact he’s going to have on this community is significant,” Galaxy president Chris Klein said. But, he added, “to realize that potential, he has to be very good on the field.”
That’s where Hernández’s value — and the Galaxy’s success — will ultimately be judged. However, for the man who will be signing those big checks, the hoopla surrounding the player’s arrival was a victory in itself because it proved the Galaxy are the big dogs in MLS. And they intend to keep it that way.
“We have an expectation that we’re going to make the investments necessary to compete for championships every year,” Beckerman said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win the championship every year. But that’s our goal. We’re going to do whatever we can do and make the investments we need to make.”