This week, the LA Galaxy confirmed the long-awaited signing of Javier Hernandez. While his quality might not be of the same level, this is a bigger signing for MLS than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man Chicharito is replacing.
Bar David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the biggest world star to take to the field in Major League Soccer. He arrived with typical fanfare, taking out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times among many other marketing ploys, and sold himself as King Zlatan, his egotistical arrogance dripping from every syllable, sign or talk-show interview.
In fairness to Zlatan, he backed up his words. 52 goals in 56 games is an outrageous scoring rate, and while his Los Angeles Galaxy may never have topped the lot in his two years at the club, even missing out on the playoffs entirely during his first season there, his individual performances were startlingly elite.
His impact off the pitch was huge, too. He commanded a presence that few other individual players have ever done in MLS, extending beyond the American soccer realm and reaching into both the global game and the general American sports world.
But for all of the brash brilliance of Zlatan that lit up Dignity Health Sports Park and made people jump in shock and awe at their TVs at home, the biggest soccer market in America, and in Southern California in particular, was left untapped: the Mexican demographic. Not for long.
To replace Zlatan, the LA Galaxy signed Mexican megastar and icon, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, who is El Tri’s record goalscorer and one of the most recognisable and marketable faces and names in Mexican society. He may not be Zlatan on the pitch, touching close to 30 goals per season, although he will still likely get 20, but he far eclipses the Swede off it.
The Mexican National Team jersey is still the most-bought soccer jersey in America. ‘Chicharito’ is the name that is on more of them than any other player. In fact, his jersey sales have consistently been among the highest in America despite never having played for a domestic team. Liga MX is still the most popular domestic league in America, more popular than MLS, the Bundesliga, or even the Premier League.
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Los Angeles has 4.9 million Hispanics. That is a 9% share of the national Hispanic population and a whopping 48.3% of the city’s population. Not all of these will follow football, of course, and even of those that do will not necessarily be interested in the Galaxy and the wider MLS simply because Chicharito is now involved, but even if only a minuscule percentage of this community is motivated to come to Galaxy games, that will see a massive increase in match attendance and general attendance.
Moreover, with fellow Mexican hero Carlos Vela performing magic tricks just across the way for Los Angeles FC, the looming El Traficos take on a new level of significance. The 2019 playoff El Trafico was the most-watched playoff game bar MLS Cup in league history. It was the most-watched MLS match in league history on ESPN Deportes. And this was without Chicharito’s involvement.
On the pitch, Zlatan might be the greatest individual player to play in MLS. But off the pitch, Javier Hernandez takes the Galaxy and the league to a new level, one never seen before. And that, for everyone involved, can only be a good thing.