CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy's injury crisis has produced some unexpected benefits, as Bruce Arena has been forced to toss just about every healthy body onto the field at one point or another.
One of the most pleasant has been rookie Ignacio Maganto's introduction to MLS.
The 23-year-old Spaniard, taken by the Galaxy at the end of the first round in this year's SuperDraft, looked good in his first three league appearances, played over eight days the past couple weeks, showing off nimble technique and a voracious attacking sense to enliven LA's moribund offense.
That he's done so with utmost confidence and while playing in four different spots – both flanks, central midfield and up top – says plenty about who he is and what he's about.
Maganto's teammates love him – left back Robbie Rogers calls him “a great talent” – and the coaching staff have learned they can trust him in any situation.
“He's done a good job,” head coach Bruce Arena said ahead of Sunday's game at Orlando City (5 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US/TSN2 in Canada). “Maybe forced into action a little bit earlier than necessary, but he's done a good, solid job.
“He's technically good as a player. He obviously had a good background in a youth system growing up, an academy system that was good. I'm not sure four years of college soccer is always the perfect thing, but he's come in here, played, had some ideas as an attacking player. He pretty much knows what he's about, which is good. He's been confident, and I guess if you want to describe that he's mature for his background, yeah, he is.”
Maganto was a virtual unknown heading into MLS's pre-draft combine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was one of the real revelations. But he'd built a strong résumé before starring for four years at little Iona College, where he was a four-time All-Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference and three-time All-North Atlantic Region selection and scored 20 goals with eight assists as a junior and senior.
He'd been on a path toward professional soccer at home, in Madrid, where he grew up a passionate Real supporter but was discovered by scouts from La Liga side Getafe, in the capital's suburbs, in his mid-teens. Maganto spent five years with the Azulones and says he was on the verge of signing with their second team when Iona coach Fernando Barboto offered a scholarship.
“I didn't pay attention to that at first, but then when I was talking with Getafe [about a contract], I thought I had to quit studying when I realized [Iona] was a chance to do both ...,” Maganto said. “In Spain, you can't be a professional soccer player and have an education, so you have to choose. I thought my education was important, just in case. You don't know what can happen with soccer, injuries or whatever.”
He's been taking his final class toward a degree in international business – he was an Academic All-American as a senior – while showing off, first in training, then for the Galaxy II reserve team and now for the first team, his combination of skill, speed and intelligence.
Maganto, who was unaware of Major League Soccer until moving to the US, made an immediate impression in his MLS debut, a May 2 home draw with Colorado. Afterwards Arena praised him for playing “with a lot of confidence” and being “somebody that [the Rapids] had to focus on.”
He saw time off the bench in last week's midweek tie at Real Salt Lake, then impressed again in a 2-1 loss last weekend to FC Dallas. When he left, in the 72nd minute, the Galaxy were ahead. And they might have been up by two goals had Tommy Meyer not been offside when Maganto collected a clearance at the top of the box, made a quick move to the left, then fired into the net – with a slight deflection off Meyer – just before halftime.
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Maganto doesn't think he's done anything special. Nor was he nervous before making his debut.
“I've been playing a long time, and I know the situation already,” he said. “When I was playing for Getafe, I was the youngest in the [second] team, and my teammates give me confidence, and the coaches. There was no reason to be nervous.”
He says his tools – the ball skills, his knack for moving into the right spots, his quickness and confidence when taking on defenders – developed in great part because he's not very big, listed at a generous 5-foot-8, 140 pounds.
“Because I was small and the other guys were stronger and bigger than me, I had to play quicker than everyone so that I didn't get too much contact with the other guys,” he said. “I think that was a positive for me also, to be able to [develop] that speed. I think it's all natural.”