CARSON, Calif. — Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was saying all the right things as he prepared for his first home game with the LA Galaxy on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Dignity Health Sports Park (7 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet).
He understandably can’t wait to play in front of an expected sellout crowd of around 27,000 as the Galaxy return home following last Saturday’s season-opening, 1-1 tie against the Dynamo in Houston.
“Excited, very motivated to do my best,” he said when asked what emotions he was feeling during this week’s practice preparations. “We all have that mindset that we want to get three points, then build something special from that to try to get to the playoffs and try to win the championship.”
Hernandez, Mexico’s all-time leading scorer who signed with the five-time MLS Cup champions in late January, isn’t the only member of the Galaxy anxiously awaiting his home debut. His teammates were eager for him to make an appearance, too.
“I think it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere,” said midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, who has been nursing a groin injury for several weeks but could be cleared to play this weekend. “He’s excited to play his first match at home with a big fan base, a lot of Mexicans who will be supporting him the entire 90 minutes.
“And hopefully, he gets his first goal.”
Hernandez had a rather inauspicious debut in Houston, where he was credited with just one shot attempt and twice was called for offside. Expectations predictably are high, perhaps unrealistically so, from fans and media, but the Galaxy’s Joe Corona said Hernandez is more than ready to embrace the challenge.
“I think he’s a player that’s used to pressure,” he said. “He’s a world-class player, and he’s made a name for himself playing on some of the biggest clubs in the world. I think a player like that is always going to have pressure, but he’s mature enough and professional enough to manage that well. It comes with the territory.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is he has the right mentality to deal with it, and he’s very excited to be here, like we are. It will be interesting, but I think he’s going to provide a lot for the team.”
The Galaxy lead the series with Vancouver 8-3-1 and have a 21-7 edge in goals, but the Whitecaps can take credit for a stunning, 4-3 victory last Sept. 29, thanks to a breakaway goal by Michaell Chirinos deep into stoppage time. Chirinos no longer is with the visitors, having chosen to continue his career with Honduras’ Club Deportivo Olimpia, but Vancouver does have the likes of Fredy Montero (a team-leading eight goals in 2019) and defender Ali Adnan, who had five assists a year ago. The Whitecaps are led by Marc Dos Santos, who took over as head coach in November of 2018 from interim coach Craig Dalrymple, who had replaced Carl Robinson.
Hernandez wasn’t as concerned with the Whitecaps as much as he was with the Galaxy. He said there was much to be pleased with regarding last weekend’s draw in Houston.
“A lot of positives,” he said. “We got one point against a very complicated rival. The first 20 minutes were very good for us, then they got control of the game. It was a fair draw, there were a lot of positive things, and now we’re just thinking about Saturday and trying to get three points.”
Head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said Hernandez will be fine, despite the early influx of naysayers regarding the Mexican international.
“I’m not worried about how many goals he will score this year,” Schelotto said. “I’m more worried about the team and how it’s going. We need to be better than last year. That is the more important thing for us.
“Work like a team, where everyone is involved. I don’t care about who scores. I am very, very focused about the team.”
RARIN’ TO GO
Dos Santos and central defender Dan Steres have been on the outside looking on during preseason, but that could change Saturday.
Both players have been nursing groin injuries, but they recently returned to full training and will be on the active, 18-man roster for Saturday. Dos Santos said he can’t wait to get some playing time.
“Yes, hopefully,” when asked if he could play against the Whitecaps. “We’ll see how I feel during the game. I feel good, I’m eager to play with the team which is the most important thing.
“I hope I can help during this match.”
Steres, who has been replaced in the starting lineup by impressive newcomer Nick DuPuy, said he’s feeling “as healthy as I can right now.”
“I’ve been training for two weeks, trying to get ready,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m 100 percent, but I’m ready to play and hopefully ready to help the team out this weekend.
“It’s been very frustrating. Having to take two weeks not even being out here, just trying to get it right and taking the time to push the fitness to get back when they’re already kind of loaded. I was trying to push through in the early part of the preseason, so I could have a base, and I think it worked pretty well.
“Now, I’m just trying to feel right again.”
Steres had a simple answer when asked if he could play Saturday.
“Yes,” he replied without hesitation. “I’m ready to go.”