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Welcome to the Whiparound, a Monday morning review of the weekend happenings in Major League Soccer, plus a look around the state of soccer in the Bay State:
Javier Hernández seems to have his scoring groove back.
The Mexican international who took the stage with Manchester United in 2010 under the single name Chicharito — The Little Pea, for those who didn’t know — only scored two goals for Los Angeles Galaxy in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. It was the first year of a three-year contract for the now-32-year-old, and Galaxy were in a bit of turmoil as it did not reach the expanded postseason. It may also be fair to say and write that there was also a bit of identity loss with Galaxy, held scoreless seven times last year, since Zlatan Ibrahimovic had departed Southern California for the Serie A and AC Milan at the end of 2019.
Only scoring twice — the lone goal against Portland in a 2-1 defeat on July 13, then not again until the penultimate match of the season in a 1-1 draw against eventual MLS Cup runners-up Seattle on Nov. 4 — was the latest in a run of low goals tallies for the former Guadalajara youngster. Since scoring a career-high 26 goals for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga back in 2015-16, Chicharito’s goals has slipped. His second season in Germany saw 13 goals, before he returned to England and West Ham United. He scored eight goals in each of his first two seasons in East London, then only scored one at the start of the 2019-20 season before he handed in a transfer request to go to Sevilla, where he only scored three before he was sold to Galaxy in early 2020.
The two-goal season must have sent Hernández into re-focus mode during this recently completed lengthy offseason, as it appears he is now firing on all cylinders. In this two-match-old 2021 season, Hernández leads the league in scoring with five goals: two goals scored in the season-opening 3-2 win against Inter Miami, then popping in three goals Sunday night in a 3-2 win over another team struggling to find its identity, the New York Red Bulls.
Hernández isn’t looking back on 2020, that’s for sure.
“The past, we’re not going to change that,” Hernández said Sunday, according to LA Times sportswriter Kevin Baxter in this morning’s edition. “Right now I’m very focused on the present. I just want to win games. Winning games, it normally depends on the striker scoring goals. As a striker, you want to put yourself in the correct positions. Thankfully that’s happening because of all the great work we’re doing.”
On Sunday, he found himself in the right positions.
For his opener, he had made a stellar off the ball run following Jorge Villafaña’s strong duel win and starting a counter. It appeared Ethan Zubak’s deflected pass was a touch too long and looked to go out of play for a corner — the Red Bulls defender on Chicharito’s side had eased up his run — but Chicharito slid and popped the ball in from less than two yards from the line. That’s one.
Goal No. 2 was a thing of beauty, with the Red Bulls’ center backs not aware of Hernández’s presence at the top of the box and onside. Victor Vasquez’s pass went right to Chicharito, who slipped the ball past New York goalkeeper Carlos Coronel for his second of the match and fourth of the season.
The hat trick came early in the 60th minute, as a cross pinballed in the box and met Chicarito high. That’s a hatty, right there, and that’s five goal incredibly early in the new season.
And honestly, you have to love to see it. Having Hernández, currently the highest paid player in the league (and we should see those numbers from the Players Association soon), score goals is must-watch television. Having the Galaxy winning soccer games is good for the league; they have five stars for a reason.
And while they are not necessarily villains — the players are incredibly likable; Zlatan’s gone, obviously, and so is Ashley Cole — having the Galaxy walking about with such swagger again is just insanely good copy.
And to see Chicharito scoring in bunches again… it’s been a long time.
In case you were wondering, there have been 10 hat tricks in New England Revolution history, according to the team record book and the most recent match notes from the weekend. Taylor Twellman, naturally, has the club record with three of them. Pat Noonan has two. Five players are tied with one.
The most recent Revs’ hatty? That’s by Kei Kamara in September 2017 against Orlando City, part of a 4-nil win at Gillette on Sept. 2. And it was a natural hat trick, too.
Our weekend got off to an interesting start, as VAR had taken away two Orlando City goals before Nani’s back heel brought the Lions level with Sporting Kansas City, 1-1, giving Orlando a rather valuable road point on Friday night.
Then Saturday started off with the season’s most lopsided scoreline to date: a 5-0 New York City win over FC Cincinnati in the Bronx. The Cincinnati Inquirer’s Pat Brennan reported that the last time FCC surrendered five was September 2019. He also noted that the Orange and Blue gave up four to NYCFC this past September.
So far, Cincinnati has yielded seven goals in its first two matches of 2021.
In short, this team is rather leaky in the back.
Hat tip toward NYCFC’s Sean Johnson. The US international keeper made some pretty damn good saves to keep a hungry FCC out of the net Saturday.
Austin FC came from behind to knock off host Colorado Rapids Saturday night, with Leominster’s Diego Fagundez popping in the first goal in club history at the hour mark. Verde then went ahead courtesy Cecilio Domínguez in the 67th minute, who then capped off the win four minutes later.
Three goals, all within 11 minutes, to give Austin its first three points in club history — and that’s coming at elevation, too.
We spoke of villains earlier, and the 2021 season has a somewhat unlikely one already: that would be Real Salt Lake’s 20-year-old goalkeeper, David Ochoa.
Minnesota United accused Ochoa of time wasting in the second half of RSL’s 2-1 win in Saint Paul Saturday. But what really caught MNUFC’s ire? The way Ochoa — called “a clown” by Loons’ defender Michael Boxhall — punted the ball into the stands after the full-time whistle.
While we agree that punting the ball is a touch childish, who really gives a damn that he was time-wasting? Newsflash: every team on the planet wastes time in the second half when their club is ahead. It happens.
If you’re really that offended by time-wasting, don’t let them score two on you in your own building and then expect them to play “fairly.” That just doesn’t happen.
And honestly? Having a villain in what can be looked at as a goody two shoes, squeaky clean league is not necessarily a bad thing here, folks. It raises the intensity level, and we’ll be paying close attention when the two sides meet in Salt Lake City on May 29.
Closer to home, the UPSL season got underway in the Patriot Division this past weekend.
On Sunday, Mass United battled Lincoln CF to a scoreless draw, while Brockton FC United knocked off Worcester’s UNations FC, 2-nil, at Rocky Marciano Stadium on Saturday night. Also on Saturday, the Seacoast United SC Classics drew level with International SC, 2-2, while Seacoast United Mariners thumped Jaguars United, 9-0.
With no disrespect intended toward Seacoast, we’re thinking Brockton will be the team to watch in the Patriot Division this season. Brockton is also in the running for the USASA Region 1 Amateur Cup, as FC United knocked off holders Newtown FC, 5-0, last weekend to advance in the competition.
Brockton is slated to host the New York Pancyprian Freedoms at Marciano on May 9.