U.S. international John O'Brien walked into a suite at The Home Depot Center on Tuesday afternoon alongside Chivas USA co-owner Antonio Cue and coach Bob Bradley. After the two men praised the club's acquisition of O'Brien, the Southern California native spoke calmly into a microphone.
"Tengo un poco palabras en espanol," O'Brien said smoothly in Spanish. "Estoy muy feliz de estar otra vez en casa aqui en Los Angeles." ("I have a few words in Spanish. I'm very happy to once again be at home here in Los Angeles.")
With the ink not quite dry on his contract, O'Brien was already endearing himself to Chivas USA faithful.
After weeks of speculation and rumors, O'Brien became Chivas USA's latest high-profile acquisition. Born and raised in nearby Playa del Rey, O'Brien joined his first U.S. professional club after spending the last 12 years in the Netherlands.
Injuries, however, have cost him much of the past three years but have not kept him from consideration for the World Cup. Tuesday, he was called into the United States national team's roster for next week's friendly against Jamaica in North Carolina.
His hamstring, Achilles tendon and, most recently, groin problems did little to hinder the club's enthusiasm with having the Ajax product.
"We've always said that Chivas makes headlines and today's is one that we're very happy about," Cue said. "Every team desires to have world-class players, those who can ably represent their respective national teams. John is someone who fits that mould. We've gotten ahead of ourselves. We had planned (to have both Mexican and U.S. national team players) in five years and now in our second year we have a great opportunity."
Chivas USA got off to a flying start in its 2006 MLS campaign. Sunday, the Red-and-White routed Real Salt Lake by a 3-0 count. Now, Bradley must find room in the midfield for O'Brien, who will be available for Saturday's game at D.C. United.
"It makes the decisions harder but adding a top player to our team is only going to take us closer to really competing with the best teams in MLS," Bradley said.
O'Brien is not yet match-fit, he said, but the prospect of playing a game is "is something that's definitely eating inside of me. I want to get out there and play in a competitive environment," O'Brien said. "I've been susceptible to injury. I'm hoping to turn that around. Maybe in the next few years I can kind of turn around that image."
Chivas USA faces a unique situation. With O'Brien in the mix for a U.S. World Cup spot, the club could potentially have one player each from the Mexican and U.S. World Cup teams: Claudio Suarez was one of 26 names on Mexico's provisional World Cup team.
If the two players compete with their respective national teams at the World Cup, it would reinforce the amount of experience the club counts with. Including O'Brien, Chivas USA has five players who have competed in the World Cup: Suarez and Ramon Ramirez (in 1994 and 1998), Francisco Palencia (1998 and 2002) and Carlos Llamosa (2002). Also, assistant coach Preki was on the USA's 1998 World Cup team.
"It's great to have the best players on your team," Cue said. "Last year we brought some players from Mexico. Those players weren't the best players; they were young players. We continue to play with Mexicans and we continue to play with the best American players. That's why this is so special. We're bringing in one of the best soccer players from the U.S. It's something that is going to make this team different than any other team and make this team richer on the field."
O'Brien, 28, left the United States at age 16 to join Dutch power Ajax. A year ago, O'Brien moved from Ajax to fellow Dutch side ADO Den Haag. After his contract expired, O'Brien thought it best to come home. When faced with the prospect of joining one of the two MLS clubs who call southern California home, O'Brien said the choice was rather simple.
"I'm actually happy to be with Chivas," O'Brien said. "People kept saying to me, 'Well, you probably want to be with the Galaxy.' For me, soccer in the States has always been a multicultural thing and there's no place better than Chivas that represents that to me. I grew up playing club soccer with a lot of Mexican players. It's a good fit. Chivas seems to be a team that's growing right now so I'm excited to be a part of this club."
As for the rest of his message in Spanish, O'Brien simply laid out his goal for this season.
"I want to tell Chivas fans," he said in Spanish, "that I promise to give 100 percent of myself to help the team win this year."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.