Is Chicharito’s signing at the LA Galaxy the biggest move in MLS history? One can argue David Beckham’s signing was more momentous, ushering in the Designated Player era in MLS to help raise the level of play light years beyond what had been on display before.
But Chicharito’s capture ticks several boxes: Concacaf’s biggest star, with a global footprint, is coming to MLS and the Galaxy, which had fallen on relatively hard times since their last MLS Cup win, in 2014. Add the marketer’s fever dream, he’s the biggest Mexican star, coming to a country and city where the Mexican national team is the biggest team (really), and Chicharito is the rare player who can possibly top the two-year stint of another superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at the Galaxy.
The Galaxy haven’t been positioned as a leading team that signs Mexican players (you can argue Cuauhtemoc Blanco at the Chicago Fire and yes, even Carlos Vela at LAFC have been more successful as beloved Mexican stars in MLS) but they have a track record of signing high-profile El Tri stars since the very beginning. How has it worked out in the past?
Jorge Campos (1996-97)
The goalkeeping dynamo was one of the big names who joined the Galaxy for their debut back in 1996. The flamboyant player featured in 43 regular-season matches for LA, and was a regular for their run to the MLS Cup final in the first season, where they fell in a rain-soaked match to D.C. United.
Campos was a truly unique player, a diminutive goalkeeper who successfully moonlighted as a forward. He would switch at times between GK and forward during a game!
While his Galaxy stint did not lead to silverware and Campos was not as beloved a Galaxy legend as the likes of Mauricio Cienfuegos and Cobi Jones, Campos’ profile helped establish the club on the national and international stage. The Galaxy led MLS in attendance in 1996, with an average of more than 28,000 at the Rose Bowl, a mark not eclipsed until the Seattle Sounders entered the league in 2009. Additionally, the Galaxy set the initial mark for highest attendance of an MLS game, with over 92,000 ahead of a USA-Mexico game in 1996, where Campos played in both matches of the doubleheader.
Carlos Hermosillo (1998-99)
Opting to go for a pure forward instead of a combo goalkeeper/forward, the next big El Tri star to arrive was Carlos Hermosillo. He scored 14 goals and 15 assists across two seasons in regular season play, which is pretty decent. He helped LA win their first major silverware, the 1998 Supporters’ Shield and was the team’s joint-top scorer in regular-season play in 1999. But of the players on this list, with the exception of the big bust (keep reading), he’s a player who was solid but is probably mentioned the least by longtime fans.
Luis Hernandez (2000-01)
The next big star to come to the Galaxy out of Mexico was El Matador, whose distinctive long blond hair set him apart from most of his compatriots, literally, while also starring for the Mexican national team.
Hernandez did help LA win silverware, as the club captured the 2000 Concacaf Champions Cup and 2001 U.S. Open Cup. He was the Galaxy’s leading scorer in 2001, but similar to Campos, Hernandez’s stint with the Galaxy was respected but he didn’t quite become a huge fan favorite. A trend may be starting here...
Dos Santos brothers (2015-present)
The next notable Mexican stars to play for the Galaxy came over a decade later, when first Giovani dos Santos and then his brother Jonathan joined up. You can argue Giovani — a star on par with Vela, possibly only eclipsed by Chicharito — had a similar effect to Beckham, as his signing directly brought the era of Targeted Allocation Money, an MLS tier widely bemoaned and possibly going away with the new CBA, but one which gave teams more flexibility to add quality beyond the three Designated Players. For teams smart enough to find sub-DP quality, TAM has been enormous, and that’s all because of Gio.
However...Giovani and Jonathan have had largely diverging paths for the Galaxy. Gio was the attacking star, but after a hot run in the 2016 season, when he scored 14 goals and 12 assists, he was largely underwhelming on the field, which dampened his marketing appeal over time. By the time he left the Galaxy in 2019, he was an albatross, the team desperate to get rid of him. In the end, they bought him out and he moved to Club América.
Jonathan, meanwhile, joined LA during the 2017 season, started pretty slowly and did not have the highlight reel plays his brother did in part because he plays the unflashy deep midfield metronome, but he has gotten better as time as gone on. In 2019, he made a terrific leap in his quality on the field and became the hipster’s pick for best player on the team. Unlike Gio, Jonathan remains a key player for the Galaxy and is still a major piece of the current roster.
The Dos Santoses impact? Put simply, time will tell. Gio was a bust (even though he was MLS Best XI in 2016!), frankly, and whether that was bad timing with some huge transitions on the field for the team or the player himself wasn’t right is up for debate. Jonathan is a star but he doesn’t have the profile of his brother, even if he probably is somehow underrated in spite of his star status. If he wins titles with LA will he become a Galaxy legend? Certainly he could, although at the present Jonathan is not close to the Cienfuegos/Cobi/Donovan god tier of Galaxy legends.
So will Chicharito be a hit in LA? The track record of Mexican stars at the Galaxy suggests he is more likely to be liked than loved. But has a Mexican player brought the heat, the sexy goals like Zlatan, Keane, Donovan, Ruiz? The previous stars have largely been good, not transcendent. It may be a tall task to expect Chicharito to be incredible to really help the Galaxy be Mexican fans’ team in Los Angeles, but don’t forget: There is a number of Mexican-heritage fans who are already Galaxy fans. Can they get their Liga MX/El Tri-loving friends and family to join up as Galaxy fans? That’s still a market that can be expanded into, and with the Galaxy at times having a fair number of open seats at games the last few years, that legendary Mexican figure could finally be here, if Chicharito is successful on and off the field for the Galaxy.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!