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Little Pea, Big Player: Reinvigorated Chicharito back to his best as LA Galaxy earn statement Trafico victory

13:00 BST 09/05/2021
Javier Hernandez LA Galaxy MLS 2021
The Mexican star has scored six goals in four games, putting a difficult 2020 behind him in the process

How's the saying go? Big players make big plays in big games?

In recent years, El Trafico has grown into the biggest game in MLS and, at least on Saturday, it was one of the league's biggest stars that provided everything needed to make the latest derby clash another one worth remembering.

While Los Angeles FC's superstar Carlos Vela was left sidelined, the LA Galaxy's marquee player stepped up as Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez fired the hosts to a 2-1 win over their crosstown rivals. It was yet another stellar performance from Chicharito, a player that has reinvented himself after admittedly reaching rock bottom in 2020, guiding the Galaxy back to their perch atop the West early on.

After scoring just two goals during his first MLS campaign, the Mexican star already has six through four matches in his sophomore season in MLS. His latest came in the 11th minute, sending the limited-capacity crowd into a frenzy as he tripled his goal tally from last season before mid-May.

LAFC fired back in the 62nd minute with a goal of their own from their other big star, Diego Rossi, last season's Golden Boot winner. This LAFC team remains a fine-tuned machine, one that has the talent and depth to go toe-to-toe with the very best of MLS even without their talismanic goalscorer Vela.

But, on this day, it wasn't enough. Despite LAFC's dominance on the ball, all it took was one more moment of magic from Chicharito for the Galaxy to seal a statement win.

That moment came in the 79th minute, with Cameron Dunbar kickstarting the sequence by winning back the ball deep in LAFC's half. His pass found Chicharito in the box and, after chopping the ball towards the endline, he fired a blind pass hopefully towards the center of the box. 

The ball proved to be more prophetic than hopeful, though, as Mexican teammate Jonathan Dos Santos darted into the box and placed a first-time finish into the back of the net, sealing all three points as Chicharito collected his first MLS assist.

While last season's Chicharito looked stagnant and frustrated, this season's version of the former Manchester United striker looks motivated and hungry, an altogether different player that has his Galaxy playing like an altogether different team. The 32-year-old is clearly playing with a renewed sense of purpose, having opened up in recent weeks about his mental health and the toll last season took on him.

Chicharito's sense of happiness couldn't be more apparent than in the game's waning moments, when he attempted to track back despite clearly running on empty. By the time the final whistle blew, he collapsed to the field in celebration after leading his team to victory in his first clash with LAFC.

It's a small sample size, four games, but it is safe to say there is something different about this Chicharito and this LA Galaxy team. For years, the Galaxy have been in somewhat of a malaise, having fallen down the pecking order in the West even despite the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Chicharito was brought in as his replacement, a nearly impossible task but, at least in recent weeks, he has shown he has all the makings of a Golden Boot winner.

Credit will go to Chicharito for the win, and for the Galaxy's hot start, but head coach Greg Vanney deserves his recognition as well. Having turned Toronto FC from dumpster fire into perennial MLS Cup contender, his rebuild of the Galaxy looks like it may already be ahead of schedule as Chicharito and co. look like a team that can contend for glory once again.

Can they reach that level? Time will tell. To do so, they'll need Chicharito's hot start to become the norm, his early-season rebirth to become his full-fledged persona. The Galaxy will go as far as Chicharito can take them and, if these recent weeks are any indication, that is pretty damn far.

The Galaxy have plenty of big games left ahead of them, a whole series of big moments left to define their season. But it's clear that their big player has come to play and that the old Chicharito is back in business.