Wilhelmsson hopes to make LA debut Friday vs. Rapids
CARSON, Calif. – Christian Wilhelmsson spent Tuesday in Tijuana, Mexico, taking care of his P-1 visa. His International Transfer Certificate was in hand by Thursday. Once league approval arrives, sometime before the LA Galaxy's clash with Colorado kicks off Friday night (11 pm ET, Univision Deportes), Christian Wilhelmsson will be ready to start his Major League Soccer career.
The Swedish international winger, who signed with LA last week, is still working on fitness and completing his move to California after four years in the Middle East, but he figures to make his MLS debut, probably off the bench.
First games, he acknowledges, feels “a little bit different” than the norm.
“You just want to try to get into the environment and into the team,” said Wilhelmsson, who played nearly an hour in each of the Galaxy's last two MLS Reserve League games. “I need these trainings, all the minutes – whether it's reserve game or no – I need the minutes to get to know the team. [A debut] is always a little bit special. Just try to give everything, and we'll see.”
If the Galaxy (13-11-4) win this battle of the past two MLS Cup champions, they will vault to third in the Western Conference, ahead of Real Salt Lake on total goals and one point behind Seattle, who play Saturday night at Portland. Wilhelmsson adds to LA's deep talent pool as they look to repeat as league champion.
“He's dynamic, he's good on the ball, he defends well and he's smart,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “We want to get him going, get him playing, get him a goal, get him an assist so that he really feels like he's contributing. I think he can help a lot.”
Wilhelmsson can play on either flank – he has been a right winger most of his club career but played on the left for Sweden's national team – and where he fits best with the Galaxy, head coach Bruce Arena said last week, is about “getting to know him a little bit more over the next couple of weeks in training everyday.”
The Galaxy haven’t emphasized flank play in several years, and Wilhelmsson could provide an added dimension to the reigning champions, an “element that maybe we haven't had as much,” Donovan put it.
“If you have a player that can provide [genuine wing play], it's helpful because you can't just clog the middle and worry about the guys that are in the middle,” he said. “You have to pay attention to the guys wide, and I think that's something that can be helpful down the stretch.”
Wilhelmsson is balancing his new job with the off-field part of moving such a great distance. His wife, Oksana, is doing her part to make things seamless, but she's also minding their 1½-year-old daughter, Naomi, and is due with their second child in January. Once they're settled, he will be, too.
“Everywhere you go, it's a different culture, different place and environment,” he said. “As long as you have your family around you, you can feel at home, you can relax. When you come home, it's still the same atmosphere – you have your kids running around you. It's a good feeling. Even if you're in the desert in Saudi or here in Hollywood, it's very important.”