Steven Gerrard made both history and his Galaxy debut Saturday against Mexico's Club America in an International Champions Cup exhibition at a sold-out StubHub Center.
History because it marked the first club game in Gerrard's 17-year career in which he played in anything other than a Liverpool jersey. And after a warm welcome from a pro-America crowd that booed the rest of the Galaxy lineup, Gerrard started and had an active first half, attempting three shots — nearly scoring on one — delivering a pair of splendid long passes and getting a game-high 43 touches before being subbed out at intermission with the game tied 1-1.
Carlos Quintero scored in the seventh minute for America and Robbie Keane answered seconds before the break for the Galaxy.
Alan Gordon scored on a header in the 80th minute to give the Galaxy the 2-1 win.
How Gerrard adjusts during the rest of his 18-month visit to the U.S. goes, though, ultimately could be determined more by the team's coach than by its best-paid player.
Fortunately for Gerrard, no Major League Soccer coach has been better at managing that change than the Galaxy's Bruce Arena, who rescued David Beckham's MLS experiment after a difficult two-year start, then guided Keane through an adaptation so smooth he scored in his first game with the Galaxy.
“He's a good man-to-man manager,” Keane said of Arena. “He knows experienced players, what they need. He can get the best out of players.
“When a manager has respect for you, you want to repay him.
That track record extends beyond just the EPL. Two years ago the Galaxy signed Jaime Penedo, the most decorated Panamanian goalkeeper of all time. And in Penedo's first full season the Galaxy gave up a league-low 37 goals en route to a championship.
The secret, Arena said, is treating the players first as individuals, then molding them into a team.
“Understanding who they are, where they're coming from. And their experiences and trying to adjust to that,” Arena said. “Just getting them really sold into what we're doing early.”
Arena gets that buy-in because he has had success everywhere he has gone, winning five NCAA championships at Virginia, a record five MLS titles with D.C. United and the Galaxy and taking the U.S. national team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
“Bruce has the cachet now. And success automatically commands respect,” said longtime assistant Dave Sarachan. “His ability to bring together a group is not anything that's really tangible. It's almost a feeling that he has and a sense of what it takes to build a roster.
“And a lot of it starts with just his cachet of having done it.”
But Arena has also proven adept at managing egos. When the coach joined the Galaxy late in the 2008 season, the dressing room was split between Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Arena united the factions and the next season the Galaxy made the MLS Cup final.
Less than two years later the Galaxy added the brash Keane to its once-toxic locker room, then won consecutive league titles.
And Gerrard wants a ring too.
That's what I've come here for,” said Gerrard, who never won a league title during his 17 seasons with Liverpool. “So the next couple of years is about winning trophies for me. If I can get that league title over here, I'll be very pleased.”
And if he can get people to notice the Galaxy is winning titles, the team will be pleased as well. The club's average attendance at the StubHub Center peaked in Beckham's first full season and has dropped nearly 2,000 a game since he left.
“Being in this city, being in L.A., we have an understanding that winning is simply not enough,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “We have to do it in a certain way with a certain group of players. And he ticks that box.”