Chicharito thrilled with hot start, youth soccer initiative

LOS ANGELES — With five goals in only two games, Javier Hernández is off to a spectacular start to his second year with the LA Galaxy.

Chicharito’s rebound from a rough MLS debut season is going splendidly, and now the Mexican superstar is sharing his good fortune by joining an initiative to fund soccer development in underserved U.S. communities, including two respected youth organizations in Los Angeles.

The cause is dear to the heart of Hernández, even though he grew up in Mexico as the scion of two generations of soccer greats. Chicharito knows what the sport did for him in his relatively privileged position, and he wants to share his passion with less-advantaged players in his new soccer home.

“Man, I’m living the dream,” Hernández told The Associated Press. “I’m so grateful to be here, and I don’t want to forget that I’m only human. There’s no fame, no money that can make me more valuable than any other human, but I’m grateful to enjoy being here, to live and to become the best version of myself. I just want to live and to grow, and I want to help other people.”

Hernández is taking a prominent role with “Team of Champions,” a charitable initiative backed by PepsiCo to invest in soccer in Latino and Black communities across the nation. The initiative will provide everything from equipment and playing opportunities to coaching and mentoring.

It’s one part of a commitment of more than $570 million over the next five years by PepsiCo to benefit Black and Hispanic businesses, but it’s also a personal passion for Hernández, who intends to be more than a spokesman for the causes that move him.

“I am conscious about the position I’m in, and I’ve achieved things I couldn’t even dream about sometimes,” Hernández said. “I’ve been very lucky, very fortunate, and I’m very grateful. I want to share it with others and let them have the same opportunities that I already probably had. I also want to share the fact that if I did it, anyone can do it.”

Only one player in MLS history had ever done what was accomplished in the first two games of the new season by Chicharito.

Hernández won his second consecutive MLS Player of the Week award on Monday after following up his two-goal performance at Inter Miami in the season opener with a hat trick at home last weekend against the New York Red Bulls. Only Houston’s Brian Ching (2006) had ever scored five goals in two games to start an MLS season.

Chicharito is in position to score many more goals under new coach Greg Vanney and in a new offensive attack that looks much better suited to getting the most out of its star up front.

It’s an abrupt, enormous change from last season, when Hernández scored only two goals in 12 matches during an injury-plagued season he called the most difficult year of his life when compounded with the coronavirus pandemic.

Hernández’s honesty and frankness about his struggles last season were remarkable, but with an offseason of adjustment and a new coach staff, things are looking up for both the Galaxy and their star forward.

“It was quite difficult in my life in my first year here in the U.S., but now I’m really enjoying it,” Chicharito said with a laugh. “Really, I love it. Sometimes I speak more Spanish than English when I’m going around. I feel like a better version of myself.”

That’s why Chicharito is particularly grateful for the local connections within Team of Champions. The initiative is helping two Los Angeles-area organizations: Spartan Wolves, which gives less-privileged kids access to elite athletic training and academic preparation; and Tudela FC LA, an all-girls club pursuing full gender equity in youth soccer.

Hernández’s fondness for Los Angeles and its vast Latino community began well before he signed with the Galaxy, thanks to his starring role with the Mexican national team. El Tri plays regular international matches at the Rose Bowl, where it is invariably greeted as the home team.

The chance to give back to soccer-loving youth in his new home was particularly appealing to Chicharito.

“You can feel the love of soccer in this city, in the Latino community here,” Hernández said. “The culture here in soccer has always been amazing. Even my dad told me when they came here and played the USA, everybody loved them. … To me, this is a city of opportunities. Whatever you want to do, if you’re passionate about it, this city will help you.”

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