One of the focal points on Steve Sampson's calendar this offseason was a scouting trip through South and Central America. The Los Angeles Galaxy head coach, already with strong ties in the region after his time as head coach of the Costa Rican national team, also used the Galaxy's relationships with a few Latin American clubs to scout out new talent for the upcoming season.
The trip paid dividends, as the team was able to sign three Central American players to the squad. First to sign was 22-year-old defender Michael Umaña, who played with the Costa Rican Olympic team and has recently been called into the full side for World Cup qualifying.
Then more recently, two signings were made on the heels of one another. Guatemalan international midfielder Guillermo "El Pando" Ramirez and defender Pablo Chinchilla, a veteran of the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Costa Rica, became the newest members of the Galaxy.
The Ramirez signing is the one that has the Galaxy anxious for the start of the season. Ramirez made a name for himself as the captain of the Guatemalan national team and also with CSD Municipal of Guatemala -- the same pedigree as that which preceded the arrival of Carlos Ruiz in Galaxy colors just a few years ago.
"El Pando" should be a nice fit for L.A. as a playmaking midfielder tucked in behind his countryman Ruiz, and the familiarity the two have with each other should also make for an easy transition for Ramirez.
It was the preseason trip to Spain that really opened the eyes of the Galaxy coaching staff to the qualities Ramirez could bring to the side.
"It was a big test for Pando to see how he fit in with the team," said Sampson. "I love the way he plays."
Ramirez will also provide some tense moments for the opposition on set pieces. While in Spain he scored a goal on a free kick that Sampson described as brilliant. Without Andy Herzog this year, the magic of "El Pando" should be put to use in dead ball situations all season long. Already a lethal goal scorer in Guatemala, Sampson hopes those talents will translate to the MLS style of play.
"Ramirez was one of the leading goal scorers in all of Guatemala the last few years," Sampson said. "I think he'll be one of the top 20 players in all of MLS."
In addition to the Central Americans, the Galaxy have signed two Brazilians, Naldo da Conceicao and Paulo Nagamura. Naldo was most recently with Saint-Gallen of the Swiss top flight, and also played in Turkey after coming through the Fluminense youth system in his native country. Nagamura, a product of the Sao Paulo Futebol Clube, was recently in the Arsenal reserve and youth system in England.
When all is said and done, the Galaxy could be starting as many as six players of Latin American descent this year -- but of somewhat different backgrounds than those of the team they with which will now share The Home Depot Center. And that could be just fine with the fans of the Green-and-Gold.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.