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Case of the Missing Galaxy

Rumors fly around this desk like Kobe Bryant passes--and contain equal forethought--so most are discarded or ignored.

But this latest was a doozy.

Somebody called to say he heard there is a professional soccer team in Los Angeles.

Not possible, you said.

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The Galaxy, the caller said.

Oh, them, you said.

They lost in their inaugural league championship game to D.C. United last fall, blew a two-goal lead in the final 18 minutes, drowned in a New England monsoon.

Then disappeared.

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The game account appeared in the Oct. 21 newspapers, featuring this quote from defenseman Robin Fraser:

“I think that’s what’s really going to stick in our craw for this whole off-season, the fact that we had it and we blew it.”

Maybe it’s that craw thing, but has anybody heard from them since?

No trades, no signings, no trade rumors, no signing rumors, no news conferences, no ceremonies, no ink, no air time, absolutely no presence, until Saturday’s trade of midfielder Jorge Salcedo to Columbus for a draft pick.

The Galaxy had an average attendance of nearly 30,000. Yet, since that last loss, the team has done little to let those people know it was still alive.

You assume the team left town. Football teams have done that to us before.

Bad rumor, you said.

Will you just phone somebody to confirm it, the caller said.

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Who am I going to call, you said.

Jorge Campos? The team’s most popular player has not been seen in a Galaxy-related event since he was a shivering bystander to those three D.C. goals.

Mauricio Cienfuegos? Eduardo Hurtado? If they have been out selling the team, the pitch has been missed.

You saw Cobi Jones and Dan Calichman playing for the U.S. team in World Cup qualifying matches and such, but that somehow didn’t inspire you to stand up and proclaim yourself a Galaxian.

There was one more person you could call.

He is a defenseman, played every minute of the championship game, underwent abdominal surgery afterward, surely he would be around.

His phone rang in Pasadena.

“Mark Semioli?” you said, identifying yourself.

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“Yes?” he said.

“Do you still have a team?”

“We start practice Feb. 4,” he said.

Oh.

Further investigation uncovered the following:

--Yes, there is still a team. It begins the regular season on March 29 at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch against D.C. United.

--No, this team still isn’t sure how to manufacture that important ingredient known as the off-season buzz.

Danny Villanueva, team president, said league constraints keep him from making year-round news with trades and signings.

The schedule is oddly designed so that roster movement doesn’t begin until now, during tryout camps, after three months of quiet.

Even then, a restrictive salary cap--so important to the young league’s survival--prevents top teams like the Galaxy from acquiring a star without trading one.

“Our team has not made news, but our players have,” Villanueva said.

That is also a problem, though, because the best players on the MLS rosters spend their off-seasons with national teams in other countries.

Many still view the MLS as a type of summer vacation. And who has ever demanded a trade, or pushed for a coach’s firing, or caused any sort of problem with summer vacation?

The best players show up, have fun for a few months, and return to their real jobs.

That leaves off-season news to be made by the few locally based players.

Judging from an appearance schedule, at least the Galaxy is trying.

“Some of it hit, some of it didn’t,” acknowledged Ron Acosta, director of public relations.

The hits were with suburban youth soccer players, who attended many of the 50 or so appearances by team members from the end of the season until Dec. 15.

Why stop Dec. 15? In a moment of inspired brilliance, the league decided to include a six-week vacation into every player contract beginning on that date.

Somebody should tell them pioneers don’t take vacations.

The didn’t-hits involved many other fan segments, including parts of the large immigrant population that provided the core of many of their large crowds.

There were more appearances at youth soccer fields than the corner grocery stores and gathering spots where the sport is spoken.

“This still being a fledgling league, we have a conflict,” Semioli said. “Do we push Anglo, or do we push Hispanic?

Whatever they push, that still doesn’t make it OK for a regular sports fan to drive around town for three months without hearing the Galaxy’s name once.

During those three months, the Galaxy has not raised ticket prices. Management has responded to fans’ complaints by moving most of the games to cooler evening times. Only one of those evening games occurs on a school night.

All great stuff. It will be greatly appreciated by those who remember the Galaxy.


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