The 2005 MLS season officially kicked off in Los Angeles on Thursday as Steve Sampson's rebuilt charges took the field at The Home Depot Center for their first official practice of the preseason.
Very early, the 20-odd player squad composed of a pair of walk-ons, players on contract and some pending negotiations made their way to Field No. 1 at Victoria Street, where they took part in some physical and tactical work that ended near noon on a beautiful and typical southern California day.
Some faces were familiar -- veteran Galaxy campaigners such as club original Cobi Jones, Jovan Kirovski, Tyrone Marshall and Peter Vagenas. To that core was added newcomers in Troy Roberts (California), Michael Enfield (UCLA), Quavas Kirk (U.S. U-17 national team), Mubarike Chisoni (Coastal Carolina) and Ugo Ihemelu from Southern Methodist University, who expressed his feelings on the coming MLS season.
"I'm extremely excited to be here, it is a privilege to form part of a team like the Los Angeles Galaxy. Growing up and not having MLS around you always idolized teams like Manchester United and Milan from Italy, but the Galaxy has nothing to envy them," Ihemelu said. "I am glad to be here, and at the same time feel intimidated by the fact that I will be sharing the field with players of the likes of Cobi Jones and Carlos Ruiz, whom I have a lot of respect for."
A "Chiva" in Galaxy country?
Another new but very recognizable face in Carson was that of Antonio "Chivas" Martinez, who is on trial with the club. Sampson said he would evaluate Martinez for a week before making any decisions.
"Antonio is out here training with us as a walk-in. We know of his talent and hope to see his actual level of play that will help us determine if he can contribute with us in the season to come. He has lots of experience and knows Major League Soccer, which is a definite plus," said Sampson, who also admitted that it is necessary for the whole team to be complete to share the same mindset.
"We hope that with the return of the players that are on national team duty, including (Costa Rican) Michael Umaña whose visa we are awaiting, the boys can all be in the same mindset. I want them all to share my philosophy, maturity, responsibility and self-respect. I want my players to be a reflection of what Steve Sampson's teams have always stood for," added the Galaxy chief before retiring for a quick lunch with a second training session taking place three hours later.
"This is a great opportunity for me, I'm finally back home where I hope to be able to impress Coach Sampson so that he can consider me as a "galactico" for the 2005 season," said Martinez, who admitted he is a die-hard Galaxy man, and not a "Chiva" as many would think because of his nickname, which was given to him in his native Jalisco, Mexico -- the home state of Guadalajara, also known as "Chivas country".
Preseason schedule revealed
Another surprise at "Opening Day" was that of the preseason schedule, which was revealed to the media confirming the Aloha Bowl game against D.C. United on Feb. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. In addition, there are games in Carson against the San Jose Earthquakes [March 3] and the full U.S. national team [to be confirmed], three world-class tests against Osasuna, Numancia and a team to be determined in Spain [March 9, 10, 15] with a third still to be announced, then later returning to the Southland and closing the preseason against the Fresno Fuego [March 19] and a rival to be determined on March 23.
Rene Romano is a contributor to MLSnet.com.