LOS ANGELES — The LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo will take the field on Sunday night to do battle in the MLS Cup final.
On Friday afternoon, though, they took time off from the pregame hostilities to join forces and help make sure that local kids will have the chance to take to a field of their own, as they helped dedicate a new, multi-purpose field at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, courtesy of a donation from AEG.
"On behalf of AEG and the LA Galaxy, we're so honored to be able to be a part of this community and give something back," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena to an audience of dozens of local children and their parents. "As [Dynamo co-owner Oscar] De La Hoya said, you're our future. You're our future professional soccer players, our doctors, lawyers, maybe a future president here some day.
"And you've got to promise to come back because next year, the LA Galaxy are going to come back and have a practice here, and we want to see you all here."
While that elicited cheers from the audience, so did the mere presence of De La Hoya, a US Olympic gold medalist and world champion boxer who was returning to the neighborhood of his youth. It was De La Hoya who prompted the field donation according to AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who found himself marveling at the progress the league has made in the past 15 years.
"We were kidding about when we started working on the Home Depot Center and everyone started asking us about, 'What happens if the league goes under?'" Leiweke recounted. "And we're like, 'Guys, you've gotta have faith, you've gotta have vision. This thing's gonna work out.' And today you see these teams, you see the league, the sport, and the brand — the Galaxy can now go worldwide and sell out every stadium on this tour we're doing when the season ends — and it's a real compliment to not only the people who were dedicated to building the sport, but the people who were dedicated to taking a risk on the league. It's fantastic."
Joining Arena, De La Hoya and Leiweke were Galaxy players Omar Gonzalez, Hector Jiminez, Miguel López and Paolo Cardozo, as well as the Houston triumverate of Brad Davis, Kofi Sarkodie and Josue Soto. They spent time posing for pictures and signing autographs, and talking to the kids about the importance of being active and staying physically fit.
"Major League Soccer has made it," Arena said. "I'm convinced of that. We're immersed in our communities, we're growing in our country, we're growing around the world, and with that growth we haven't forgot where we came from. Today's about that, it's about giving back, and that's a special thing for our organization."
For Leiweke, the chance to celebrate those past 15 years with the dedication of the new field — which is located at Sunrise Elementary in Boyle Heights — while surrounded by players, fellow executives and plenty of fans on the eve of MLS Cup weekend was a validation of those risks and that vision.
"Bruce is right," Leiweke said. "You suddenly look around and realize, 'We're a big deal now. We've not only come of age, but we're the fastest growing sport and fastest growing league. ... This weekend gives us a moment to step back and realize as a league, all of us, how far we've come and how much good stuff we've done.
"And then come Monday morning, we all roll our sleeves up and say, 'How do we get to the next level?'"