SHOOTING STARS : Big Four Carry Galaxy's Hopes in MLS Opener Against MetroStars

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are the compass points in the Saturday night sky for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Jorge Campos. Mauricio Cienfuegos. Eduardo Hurtado. Cobi Jones.

If Major League Soccer is to make it here, those four will be responsible, starting tonight at 7 when the Galaxy plays the New York/New Jersey MetroStars at the Rose Bowl.

And what a diverse quartet it is. Consider:

--Campos, goalkeeper, surfer and fashion designer, a walking paint box whose very appearance is enough to draw fans. The NHL had Gordie Howe. MLS has How Gaudy. He flew in Thursday from Mexico, was greeted by a media feeding frenzy at practice Friday and will not be in the nets tonight.

Instead, he'll be up front, a partner in the attack, trying to score goals, not stop them. Unless, of course, he tells Coach Lothar Osiander he'd rather wear his new goalkeeping ensemble.

It's going to be that kind of season.

--Cienfuegos, midfielder extraordinaire, looks as if he missed the Santa Anita offramp from the 210 Freeway and found the Rose Bowl instead of the racetrack. Yes, he's only 5 feet 5. Yes, he's only 140 pounds. And, yes, his superlative skills have kept him on El Salvador's national team for nine years.

Were his countrymen surprised he left to join MLS? No way, he said. The surprise was among the Los Angeles area's 350,000 Salvadorans, who never thought they'd have the chance to see him play here regularly.

--Hurtado, striker, nicknamed "El Tanque" in his native Ecuador. At first this was believed to be because of his size. Turns out it's because of his speed. "Slower than molasses," one coach noted. But he scores goals. Plenty of them.

Facing "the Tank" tonight will be U.S. World Cup '90 and '94 goalkeeper Tony Meola. It could be an interesting evening for both of them. "Meola will have a busy evening," Osiander said.

--Jones, winger, he of the blazing speed and flying dreadlocks. It was under Osiander that Jones became a standout at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where "Cobi" meant mascot and player. The U.S team's run in the 1994 World Cup firmly established his place in the firmament.

He was snapped up by Coventry City in the English Premier League, played there a season or so. Missed the sun and headed to Brazil, where he joined Vasco da Gama. Missed Southern California (he's from Westlake Village) and headed home.

So there they are, the four who, on paper at least, should get the most ink and the most air time.

Osiander, however, is quick to point out that MLS, in its inaugural season, is unlike any other league he has been involved in.

Because it's all so new, because the players barely know their teammates, let alone their opponents, surprises could come from almost any quarter.

"Right now, it's a good guessing game," Osiander said. "I have New York's lineup on the board and I'm probably right on eight out of the 11 positions, but you never know.

"I know [Italian World Cup midfielder Roberto] Donadoni won't be here, and that helps me. And [U.S. World Cup midfielder Tab] Ramos won't be here either. I know they have [Venezuelan forward Giovanni] Savarese and [former U.S. national team captain Peter] Vermes. And A.J. Wood will play, and I think Damien Silvera will play."

Wood and Silvera are probable starters on the U.S. Olympic team.

MetroStar Coach Eddie Firmani finds himself in the same situation. He knows far less than he would like about the Galaxy.

"We're trying to outguess one another, I think," Osiander said.

Tonight's game, which is expected to draw as many as 40,000 fans, is the first of 32 for the Galaxy. Sixteen of those will be at the Rose Bowl, where the team also will play three nonleague matches against international opponents.

Some Galaxy games will be televised nationally on either ESPN, ESPN2 or Univision, and the team is working out details of a local television contract.

The Rose Bowl itself has been "downsized"--rather well and rather colorfully judging by its appearance Wednesday--from 102,000 to 28,000, but the latter figure is flexible depending on demand. The playing surface is in excellent condition, albeit "a bit sticky," Osiander said.

MLS teams are allowed to play a maximum of four foreign players at one time. The Galaxy, in addition to Campos, Cienfuegos and Hurtado, features Manny Motajo, a defender from Nigeria by way of Howard University, and forward Garfield Shaw of Jamaica.

The rest of the roster--which must be trimmed from its current 23 to 18 on Monday--is American. Among those likely to play all or part of tonight's game are goalkeeper David Kramer, a 6-3, 185-pound former All-American from Fresno State; defenders Dan Calichman (Williams), Robin Fraser (Florida International) and Mark Semioli (Stanford) and midfielders Chris Armas (Adelphi), Jorge Salcedo (UCLA) and Arash Noamouz (Tehran Polytechnic).

But it will be the aforementioned four who will attract the attention of the MetroStars and the crowd.

Will Campos be in goal?

"I'm going to have two workout sessions with him and then I'll see what he thinks," Osiander said.

What he thinks?

"Yes. To a certain degree you have to bend a little bit. Right now it looks like he'll probably play up front rather than in the back. Kramer has been solid and he's been with the defense for the last six or seven friendly games. I think it would make very little sense trying to put Campos in there, but we'll see."

Where will Cienfuegos play?

"He'll be right behind the two front-runners. He'll go where the ball goes. Cienfuegos is just a little motor who goes everywhere. He's so optimistic and so together and he tries really hard to please everybody. I think they love him for that.

"He does everything well. His only weakness is that he can't hit a long ball. But he can find anything within 20 yards, and I'm happy with that."

And Jones?

"Jones is wide right. He'll go up and down, hopefully for 90 minutes like a madman. That's the intent.

"He's always been one of my favorite players because of a little individuality he brings to the team, not only by his haircut but also by the stuff he does on the field. He's become a good leader, he's become a good player."

What style can be expected from the Galaxy?

"We'll go forward. We have to entertain the crowds. The ticket sales for this game are outstanding. They expect up to 40,000, which is remarkable."

It's also something Osiander, a former U.S. national team coach who directed the U.S. Olympic teams in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, sometimes doubted he would ever see--a large crowd watching a predominantly American team in league play in the United States.

"I'm looking forward to this," he said. "It's almost as good as the Olympics. It's almost as good as qualifying for the World Cup."

Osiander's enthusiasm has transmitted itself to the players, even if they're not letting on.

"You know how soccer teams are," he said. "They sort of play it casual, but inside they're on fire. It's funny, but everybody seems to think if we do well, the league does well. I think that's a great attitude because we want to be around for longer than just one or two seasons."

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