The LA Galaxy opened up their 2020 MLS campaign with a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo. While Javier Hernandez dominated the headlines throughout the offseason, Cristian Pavon is the key to the team, as Saturday proved.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez might be the biggest signing in Major League Soccer history. That narrative, and the subsequent debate that erupted because of it, dominated the offseason for the Los Angeles Galaxy, the team that has a habit of setting the trends in MLS, and the league as a whole.
But while Hernandez faces the daunting task of replicating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s near goal-to-game strike-rate of his two years in the league, in reality, the Mexican superhero will not be the cornerstone of the LA Galaxy like his predecessor was.
Where Zlatan was the sole focal point for the LA Galaxy, almost single-handedly winning games for his team with outrageous goals that he routinely pulled out of thin air, Hernandez is a different type of centre-forward, and the Galaxy will have to play differently as a result.
He likes to play on the fringes of the game. He is quite happy to run into the channels, to chase lost causes, to not touch the ball in a whole attacking move before tapping it into the goal. Ibrahimovic will drift, he will drop into midfield and dictate play, he will hold up the ball and bring others into the attacking move. Hernandez, while capable, does not revolve his game around these moments.
He will score goals, perhaps not at the same outrageous rate as Zlatan did, but he will score plentifully. But that overall attacking threat will have to come from another output, and if Saturday’s season opener against the Houston Dynamo is anything to go by, that output will be one Cristian Pavon.
Pavon arrived in LA midway through last season. He immediately formed a terrific partnership with Zlatan, starting from the wide channel and either drifting into central pockets to dictate play or driving to the by-line and whipping crosses into the penalty area. He played 11 games in MLS last year. He scored three goals and assisted six. Quite the return.
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And versus the Dynamo, Pavon was once again the offensive catalyst for the LA Galaxy. He started from the left flank once again, with Chicharito in the centre-forward position and Aleksandar Katai on the right. His pace was frightening, he regularly beat the defender in front of him when dribbling, and he scored a truly outrageous goal.
David Bingham fired a long-range clearance from out of his hands straight to Pavon, who had drifted out wide into space to break on the Houston defence. Pavon brilliantly brought down the ball, drove into the space in front of him, skipped inside a limp challenge, and from just outside the penalty area, fired a pearler into the top corner. Individual brilliance at its finest.
This was a brief illustration of the unique, unpredictable quality that Pavon boasts. He scored a similarly sensational long-range strike in preseason and is developing into as much a goalscorer as a creator. He is a complete attacking player.
And so, as the LA Galaxy look to make it back into the playoffs and challenge the elite teams in the West, while the glitz and glamour may veer towards Hernandez and his striking exploits, on the pitch, it is Pavon who is the key.