As important as it is for the Galaxy to retain Cobi Jones for the coming Major League Soccer season, it’s even more important that the team does everything it can to keep Greg Vanney.
Jones is one of the stars of MLS, a high-profile player whose status as the all-time appearance leader for the U.S. national team makes anything he does in every game a potential headline.
Vanney works a little deeper in the trenches.
He is not exactly unknown, but as a defender he does not get the media attention accorded to those who create or score the goals. That might not be fair; it’s just the way it is.
But there isn’t a player on the Galaxy who fails to recognize Vanney’s value to the team.
Top-flight left backs are few and far between, especially in MLS, which is why D.C. United’s Jeff Agoos has been the starter in that position for the U.S. national team since, seemingly, the turn of the century.
That would be the previous turn of the century, not tonight’s turn.
Vanney, 26, is the heir apparent to Agoos, who’s 32. Vanney’s chance might arrive by the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, and certainly will have by the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Meanwhile, Vanney has his club career to secure, something he and his New York-based agent, Ron Waxman, are trying to do right now in contract talks with MLS.
Vanney joined the Galaxy straight out of UCLA, as a second-round draft pick, and has been a starter since Day 1. Along with Jones, Mauricio Cienfuegos and Robin Fraser, he is one of only four original Galaxy players still with the team.
That last fact is important to him.
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is come into the league with a team and finish with the same team,” he said. “That’s one of the goals I’ve always had.”
But because of the league’s far-too-restrictive salary cap, it’s quite possible that the Galaxy might have to trade Vanney. Another option is to trade Jones, who also is in contract negotiations, but that seems unlikely.
“It [his new contract] hasn’t been resolved,” Vanney said recently. “We’re working to resolve it, but there are some issues that linger, that need to be settled.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day I’ll be here helping this team win a championship.”
Apart from being a reliable defender who can play just as well in central defense as at left back, Vanney has a tremendous shot, and it is usually he or Cienfuegos who take Galaxy free kicks. One uses guile, the other uses power. Either way, the Galaxy benefits.
Vanney said his preference would be to stay in Los Angeles, but he will not rule out moving to another MLS city or, if talks with the league break down completely, taking his career overseas.
“I want to play in L.A.,” he said. “That’s important. But one of the key problems is that L.A. has its back against the wall when it comes to the salary cap.”
The league has yet to establish what the cap will be in 2001, and until it does the Galaxy has no idea if it will be over the limit and, if so, by how much.
“From what I understand, some of the coaches have gone to the owners and asked for a 10% increase in the cap,” Vanney said. “If that gets passed, maybe . . . we can all fit under the cap.”
Vanney unquestionably has the talent to play in Europe. Five seasons of MLS experience have put more than 160 regular-season and playoff games under his belt, on top of his three years under Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid at UCLA.
The problem is finding the right situation in the right country.
“The most important thing is no matter where I go, I need to play,” Vanney said. “It does me no good to go somewhere--even if it’s Manchester United--if I sit on the bench.”
U.S. national team Coach Bruce Arena has made that abundantly clear.
“Bruce’s thing to me is, if I go to Europe or if I stay here, the important thing is that I’m on the field playing day in and day out because it’s going to make me a better player,” Vanney said.
“One of his concerns with players who are overseas is that they’re not playing enough. We’ve talked about it, and what he says to me is, ‘If you go to those clubs to look at them, then make sure you’re asking those questions and make sure you’re in their plans to play.’
"[Arena] has got to be able to evaluate me, and the only way he can do that is if I’m playing.”
Vanney’s hometown is Tempe, Ariz. He and his wife, Amy, live in Monrovia and hope to start a family in the near future, which is another reason Vanney wants to get his immediate future settled.
Then, too, there is the not-so-small matter of the CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament that begins Jan. 16. The Galaxy is one of eight teams competing.
“I’d like to get things done and stay in L.A.,” Vanney said. “I think there are big things ahead for the Galaxy, especially with this CONCACAF tournament. Potentially, with two wins, we can be playing in the World Club Championship [in Spain in July and August].”
If the league is smart, it will sign Vanney to a long-term contract. And if the Galaxy wants to retain its credibility, it will do all it can to make sure that the best left back in the country continues playing in a Galaxy uniform.
Greg Vanney’s Galaxy Career
Year Games G A Pts 1996 29 4 1 9 1997 28 1 3 5 1998 31 3 3 9 1999 31 1 7 9 2000 27 6 2 14 Totals 146 15 16 46
Note: regular season only.