By Chris Smith.
The build-up to the 2020 Major League Soccer season was undoubtedly dominated by one common theme: Mexican Designated Players.
Such was the fanfare surrounding the arrivals of Alan Pulido, Rodolfo Pizarro and, especially, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, the shockwaves were felt as far south as Mexico itself, with Liga MX players fans now taking their MLS rivals more seriously than ever before.
The aforementioned trio were undoubtedly the biggest arrivals of the winter transfer window and each has shaped the fortunes of their new teams so far — both good and bad — having a huge influence both in the dressing room and on the pitch.
So, just how have these three El Tri stars fared so far? Let’s take a look.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez
Joined from: Sevilla
Chicharito was by far and away the biggest arrival in MLS over the winter, and arguably for some time before that. Sure, he isn’t the global star that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is, but he’s absolutely adored in North America and some even pinned him as second only to David Beckham in the pantheon of big-name MLS signings.
On the pitch, the plan was for LA Galaxy to use Hernandez’s increased mobility to press higher out of possession and ask more questions of the opposition with the ball. Last season, only Portland Timbers (777) attempted more crosses than the Galaxy (757) and although Ibrahimovic was undoubtedly a figurehead, his skillset and temperament did limit his team.
“You couldn’t be free it was super frustrating,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget told BSI: The Podcast of Ibrahimovic recently. “You feel like you want to literally take your boots off and just walk off the field.”
Unfortunately for the Galaxy, that plan hasn’t worked so far. 2020 is only two games deep but they’ve already registered the sixth-lowest number of shots (23) in MLS, with Chicharito responsible for just two of them.
Hernandez has been something of a non-event and, yes, it would be incredibly cruel to judge him after just two games, but there’s no sign of Guillermo Barros Schelotto adjusting his tactical plan to suit his new DP — the Galaxy remain laborious and uninventive.
Joined from: CD Guadalajara
While one Mexican striker has struggled, another has thrived.
Sporting Kansas City had a terrible 2019 but there’s no doubting they were crippled by injury — such a consistent play-off force doesn’t go from contender to incompetent in one offseason.
What Peter Vermes has lacked for so long is a natural goalscorer and in Alan Pulido, he now has just that.
The 13-time Mexico international has already notched two goals and an assist in just two games since joining from CD Guadalajara over the winter, firing Sporting KC to six points with seven goals scored and just one conceded.
Furthermore, Pulido has completed 85.7% of his passes so far — the fourth-highest of any Kansas player to start both games this season — proving himself to be more than capable of contributing to his side’s build-up play.
Again, it’s early days, but Pulido looks the real deal. With him leading the line, Sporting KC could once again establish themselves as a real force in MLS in 2020.
Joined from: Monterrey
Despite failing to take a point from their opening two games, Inter Miami have already gained widespread admiration and genuinely scared DC United in week two. If not for Roman Torres’ second-half yellow card against the capital club, Diego Alonso’s men might well have returned home with a first-ever victory. Much of that has been thanks to the efforts of Rodolfo Pizarro.
The 26-year-old arrived from Concacaf Champions League holders Monterrey for a massive $12m in the winter, joining Miami not only as their second DP, but also as the face of the franchise until that long-rumoured superstar No.9 signs up.
One minute. 48 seconds.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) March 7, 2020
Thus far, Pizarro has absolutely delivered. Not only did the Mexico international net Inter’s first-ever MLS goal early on against DC United at the weekend, but he also ranks first at the club for shots (6) and successful dribbles (7) after two games so far.
Against DC, Pizarro was everywhere, dropping deep to link play, combining with his fellow attackers further forward and leading the press with four tackles — the highest amount of any Miami player on the day.
Again, it’s early days, but Pizarro is already showing all the signs that he could individually elevate Miami to outside play-off contenders. Once the final attacking piece is added to Alonso’s squad, who knows what this supreme playmaker could be capable of.