It's safe to say that Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez's first two matches in MLS were below par. The league's highest-paid player and most famous face, the Mexican star mustered just two shots in two matches while playing with a team that had absolutely no idea how to utilize his skillset.
There was hope that, after several months of stewing over those performances, Chicharito and the Galaxy would arrive in Orlando with something different. There was hope that, following two obviously anonymous performances, Chicharito would finally do something noteworthy for the Galaxy.
In Monday's MLS is Back opener, Chicharito had a pair of noteworthy moments. The first was a miss, one that served as a perfect metaphor for his nightmare start to life in MLS. The second was his long-awaited goal, one that provided a bit of hope that the forward could emerge from that nightmare start and play like the Galaxy's dream signing.
The Mexican star missed a first-half penalty for the Galaxy on Monday before scoring in the dying moments of a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. The loss means the Galaxy have earned just one point from their opening three matches while scoring just two goals in the process, a highly-disappointing start for a team that expects to remain in the hunt for MLS Cups each and every season.
After a handball in the box in the first half, Chicharito stepped up to take a penalty kick in the 12th minute with a chance to give his side an early lead. Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clarke, meanwhile, read the Mexican international like a book, diving to his left to stop what was a poorly-hit shot. Clarke than smothered Sacha Kljestan's efforts on the ensuing rebound, keeping the score level while robbing Chicharito of his first MLS goal.
On the surface, a missed penalty shouldn't be a concern. It happens all the time. Some of the world's top players miss from the spot in moments much bigger than an inaugural MLS tournament that only exists by a worldwide pandemic.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 14, 2020
But that moment doesn't exist solely in this Orlando bubble. It exists as part of a stretch that extends from LA to Mexico to Europe, where Chicharito exists as a household name. To date, he hasn't lived up to his big-name billing, and that missed penalty only served as a metaphor for what has been a difficult start to life in MLS.
Now, it's very fair to say that the blame does not solely lie on Chicharito's shoulders. The former Manchester United star remains a poacher, a goalscorer, as he always has been. He is a player that takes advantage of having the ball at his feet, taking virtually every opportunity he gets to put the ball into the back of the net.
And that's how Chicharito's first goal came together. It was one he's scored seemingly dozens of times throughout his career. With the Timbers down a man after defender Dario Zuparic was sent off 13 minutes prior, the Mexican star darted into space and finished off a cutback from Gordon Wild with a first-time finish in the 88th minute. It was a typical Chicharito goal, as he found that little pocket of space in the box and made no mistake with his finish.
There. It. Is. 👀
Chicharito opens his MLS account! pic.twitter.com/xBnBx8KDAq
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 14, 2020
The issue is that those sorts of looks have been few and far between since the striker arrived in MLS. By and large, the Galaxy have treated Chicharito like a target man or an aerial threat. They routinely whip in hopeful crosses and pray for the best. Most of those crosses amount to nothing, and very few of them put Chicharito in a place to succeed.
And therein lies the problem: the Galaxy aren't putting Chicharito in a place to succeed often enough, even after a four-month break where that was likely their main focus. Monday night's effort was better, sure, as Chicharito found five shots, but it's still clear to see that the Galaxy are working out a new system. Brought in to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy are still acting like Chicharito brings the same style and skillset. He doesn't.
Even when you miscast a multi-million dollar signing, you still expect results. The hope is that Chicharito is good enough to adjust and that his teammates are good enough to adjust to him.
Chicharito is Mexico's all-time leading scorer for a reason. He played at Manchester United and Real Madrid for a reason. He's the league's best-paid player for a reason. And that reason is that he's a very good player that can score a whole bunch of goals when given the chance.
It's very obvious that that adjustment will take time on the field more than anything. Maybe, with Monday's goal as a catalyst, that happens in Orlando. The Galaxy have at least two more matches remaining in this tournament to put together a complete performance and get Chicharito going.
Even with the goal, its quite clear that both Chicharito and the Galaxy are still figuring out how to get the best out of each other and, if Monday's match is any indication, all involved have a lot of work to do.