Photo by Steve Carrillo

Chicharito scores three in wild win over Red Bulls

Javier Hernandez scored his fifth of the year as he helped the Galaxy hang onto a win over the visiting New York Red Bulls.

CARSON, Calif. — The ten minutes of stoppage time was almost too much for the LA Galaxy to handle. But thanks to three goals from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, and some scrambling, clawing defense to end the game, the 2021 Galaxy became just the fifth team in franchise history to win both of their first two games and now lead all of Major League Soccer with six points. The last time it was done was in 2010 — a year that saw the Galaxy capture the Supporters Shield.

The afternoon, on the whole, was an incredibly triumphant homecoming for the Galaxy, who played in front of 6,853 fans at Dignity Health Sports Park for the first time in 14 months.

But it was a particularly stellar home debut for Chicharito who, after scoring two goals in the Galaxy’s MLS-opening win over Inter Miami CF last weekend, added another three against the Red Bull. He scored his first just nine minutes into the game when a deflected pass from Ethan Zubak looked to be creeping by the far post before being slammed home just before it went by the post. And he added his second goal in the 41st-minute on a picture-perfect pass from Victor Vazquez. He’d add his final goal in the 60th minute after Vazquez tipped a Julian Araujo cross across the box with Chicharito ready to slam it home.

It was the most dynamic the team has looked in a considerable amount of time. But the game was far from perfect.

The Galaxy would survive the Sunday afternoon battle with New York by the smallest of margins. And they would continue a theme of giving up untimely goals.

It would happen twice, with Andrew Gutman scoring in the 26th-minute and Cristian Casseres Jr. adding another in the 63rd minute. The first was probably one of the best moves of the afternoon from the Red Bulls as a poor giveaway by Adam Saldaña lead to Gutman running down the field, passing off to a supporting attacker, and receiving the ball back inside the box. His shot beat Galaxy Goalkeeper Jonathan Bond — who was called on to make four saves during the match — who didn’t do much to put a foot wrong throughout the 90 minutes.

But the defensive issues must still be a worry for Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney who seemed to be content with the three points but far from satisfied with the overall play.

Defender Julian Araujo had a forgettable game outside of his game-winning cross. A cross that also came with one of the only anticipatory defensive moves he made on the afternoon. On the opposite side, Jorge Villafaña had his best game in a Galaxy uniform (this makes two) as he constantly avoided the Red Bull pressure and stepped through it to open space on the attack.

The injury subs to Jonathan dos Santos and Chicharito in the second half — Vanney classified them both as cramps — also didn’t help. In a matter of minutes, Vazquez, dos Santos, and Hernandez all came off the field, and the center of the pitch suffered because of it.

Carlos Harvey faired the best out of the midfield subs, with Efrain Alvarez getting his first minutes of the season. But Harvey, at times, and Alvarez both seemed a step slow throughout the final minutes of play.

Zubak continued to be the Chicharito whisperer as all five of Herandez’s goals have come with Zubak on the field. And Hernandez himself had one of those dominant performances that a true poacher can have — he was involved when he needed to be involved, and he was in the right place at the right time.

The Galaxy opened play with two games that definitely worked to their advantage. And a dream start sees them atop the Western Conference and the league. But with games against the Seattle Sounders and LAFC just around the corner, the relatively lax start to the season will quickly pick up in intensity.

The Galaxy don’t think they’ve got anything figured out, however. In fact, they seemed just as anxious to get back to training as they did to celebrate a win in front of their fans.

That points to a team that gets what they’re trying to accomplish. And that may be the biggest takeaway of the first two weeks.