Newly-appointed Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson greeted the challenge ahead of him with gusto Wednesday, presiding over his first practice with the Galaxy in the morning and then meeting the media later in the day.
"To finally be here as the head coach of what I consider the best club in the country is a privilege," he said. "I don't take the responsibility lightly. We obviously have an enormous responsibility here, and that is to win the MLS championship."
Sampson was named the fourth head coach in the Galaxy's nine-year history just two days after the Galaxy dismissed Sigi Schmid, the coach at the helm for three of the Galaxy's four MLS Cup appearances and their only MLS Cup title in 2002. Coming to the Galaxy along with Sampson is Ignacio Hernandez, who will replace Zak Abdel on the club's coaching staff. Hernandez worked with Sampson most recently with the Costa Rican men's national team.
Prior to being named the new man in charge, Sampson had already been interested in working with the Galaxy in a different capacity. He also said he was approached regarding the head coaching position with the expansion club in Salt Lake City.
"Quite frankly, returning from Costa Rica, I was hoping that there would be some place within the [Galaxy] organization, maybe youth development," he said. "But, it wasn't until [Galaxy President and General Manager] Doug [Hamilton] made the decision about Sigi that he then contacted me with the idea of considering being the head coach of the Galaxy. Obviously it was an easy decision to make."
The former U.S. national team head coach quickly set about getting to know his players during Wednesday's training session, but said he has no preconceived notions about who should or will start Saturday's match against the Fire. That decision will likely be made late Friday or on matchday, Sampson said, based on training sessions over the next two days. As far as Sampson is concerned, everyone on the roster has a shot at getting a starting nod, if not Saturday, then in future weeks.
"It's a clean slate. Everyone has to prove themselves," he said. "Understanding that there can't be wholesale changes in such a short period of time for Saturday's match, over a period of time, every single player will have an opportunity to prove whether he belongs in the starting 11 or not. I think that's all a professional wants."
Another option Sampson could take advantage of to improve his squad is the transfer window that opened up Sunday. Sampson has a month to fill any gaps he sees in his roster and the Galaxy have a senior international spot open for a potential foreign transfer.
Though he did not rule out bringing in new players, he said any acquisition will not be made immediately, giving him time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the squad he is inheriting. Sampson said he has no potential new players in mind at the moment.
Regardless of the personnel he uses, Sampson will immediately be under pressure to win games and provide the offensive firepower that the team displayed at the beginning of the season but has since dwindled. After going 13 games without being shut out to start the season, the Galaxy haven't scored in their last two matches and have just nine goals in their last 10 games.
"My desire is to have a team that is attacking-minded, but a team that also has very good discipline," he said. "We have players here who can create. We have players here who can score goals. We have players here who can play direct."
Sampson's impending tenure with the Galaxy will be his first foray into Major League Soccer. To this point, Sampson has made a name for himself guiding both the U.S. men's and Costa Rican men's national teams, compiling impressive records with both teams.
In 1998, Sampson became the first American-born coach to lead the U.S. men to the World Cup, getting through CONCACAF qualifying with just two losses in 15 matches. When Sampson departed the national team after the side's disappointing finish at the '98 World Cup in France, he held the best record (26-22-14) of any U.S. men's coach who had presided over more than five matches. Current national team manager Bruce Arena has since surpassed that mark.
During his time with U.S. Soccer, Sampson also led the team to the 1995 U.S. Cup title and to the semifinals of the 1995 Copa America (both as interim coach). Sampson also oversaw the U.S. team's impressive 1-0 victory against Brazil in the semifinals of the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
With Costa Rica, Sampson led his charges to a fourth-place finish in the 2003 Gold Cup and also guided them into the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. Costa Rica compiled an 11-7-4 record in Sampson's nearly two years at the helm.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.