Galaxy Tries It Again

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To Sigi Schmid, it's a matter of getting respect in a city he has called home for the last four decades or so.

To Mauricio Cienfuegos, Cobi Jones and Greg Vanney, it's a matter of erasing the memories of the almost-but-not-quite championship campaigns of 1996 and 1999.

To Paul Caligiuri, it's the chance to go out as a champion, to retire on top of the heap. To Alexi Lalas, it's the opportunity to accomplish what he came out of retirement to achieve.

And to the rest of the Galaxy players, today's Major League Soccer championship game against the San Jose Earthquakes offers the opportunity to finish the second of three chapters in what could be a short but unique book.

First, there's Schmid, the coach who during his three seasons in charge twice has led the Galaxy to the title game. He was on the losing end of MLS Cup '99, and he knows that only by winning here today will he and his players earn any accolades back home.

"Los Angeles is a place where you have excellence in athletics, whether it's the Lakers [winning the NBA title] or the run that the Kings made last season in hockey, or the run that UCLA football is having now," Schmid said.

"To be considered on that landscape and get your due, you do need to win the ultimate goal. If you finish second all the time, you're ignored."

Twice in five seasons the Galaxy has finished second.

Only three players remain from the original team that reached MLS Cup '96, the league's inaugural title game: Cienfuegos, Jones and Vanney.

They lost, 3-2, to D.C. United that year and lost again, 2-0, to D.C. United three years later.

Caligiuri, teammate of Jones at UCLA and on the U.S. national team, is hanging up his boots after this season. This will be the final MLS game for the former AYSO player from Diamond Bar, and oddly enough it will be at the home of the Columbus Crew, his original MLS team.

"I think it would be the pinnacle of my career to say that I went out as a champion," Caligiuri, 37, said.

Lalas, meanwhile, ended a one-year retirement for the chance to play for a championship team.

"Usually about this time I'm sitting at home and watching these guys running around," said Lalas, whose previous MLS teams included the New England Revolution, New York/New Jersey MetroStars and Kansas City Wizards. "So this is a whole new experience for me. The difference is, this is a great team, and it finds ways to win." The Galaxy is in line for a possible treble, which is soccer's way of saying three titles in a season.

In January, it won the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Today it can win MLS Cup 2001 and Saturday at Cal State Fullerton it plays New England in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. The Chicago Fire won the MLS and Open Cup titles in 1998, but no MLS team has won three trophies in a season. Vanney believes it can be done.

"We have one championship under our belt this year, so we know what it feels like to win," he said. "This team is different. I think this team's commitment to defending and work rate and effort is different from any other [Galaxy] team's, maybe excepting the first year."

San Jose will present a challenge. First-year Coach Frank Yallop has molded a team that twice defeated the Galaxy during the regular season and lost to L.A. on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup.

San Jose's defense has been its strength, yielding the second-fewest goals during the regular season and then sweeping the Crew in the playoff quarterfinals before twice shutting out the league's top-scoring team, the Miami Fusion, in the semifinals.

The Earthquakes have U.S. national team defender Jeff Agoos and Landon Donovan, the Redlands teenager who scored four goals in the MLS All-Star game this summer. "Everyone knows that Landon is a quality player," Jones said. "We just have to deal with him accordingly."

The job might fall to defender Danny Califf, Donovan's teammate on the U.S. team that finished fourth at the Sydney Olympics. Since then, Donovan has become the league's darling.

"It's been the Landon show," Califf said. "He's a good player. No doubt about it. Especially for being 19 years old. But he's just another guy, another guy I have to kick--that's my game. I've known him from the Olympics, and he's a nice kid and he's a hell of a soccer player, but we're enemies when we go out there on the field."

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