Galaxy Fans Kick Up Their Heels at Victory
Jennifer Porras couldn’t hold back a scream when she saw her idol, the dreadlocked soccer player she’s been following on TV since she was 9, bound into Staples Center wearing mirrored sunglasses and a huge, toothy smile.
“Cobi!” the Norwalk 16-year-old shrieked, her joyful cry skimming over waves of booming applause. “Co-bi! Co-bi! Co-bi!”
Cobi Jones, team captain of the long-suffering Galaxy, pumped his fist in the air as fans let loose their jubilation after seven years of frustration. After losing the Major League Soccer finals three times since 1996, Los Angeles finally claimed the MLS Cup last weekend in a tight match that ended in sudden death overtime.
Scoring the winning goal against the New England Revolution was Carlos Ruiz, the 23-year-old Guatemalan striker named the league’s most valuable player. Ruiz signed on with the Galaxy as a discovery pick in February.
For Porras and about 6,000 other fans who toasted the team Saturday at the downtown arena, it was about time.
“Finally!” said Jose Avendano, a 35-year-old inventory clerk from South-Central Los Angeles. “Carlos Ruiz wasn’t a big-money, big-name player. We suddenly got this kid out of nowhere, and he made it happen.”
Giddy fans in oversized aqua-and-yellow shirts waved Guatemalan flags as the pulsing beat of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” filled the arena. Parents hoisted kids in tiny Galaxy uniforms onto their shoulders for a better view.
The noise swelled to a deafening roar as the players trooped in, dressed down for the occasion in jeans and black golf shirts.
“It looks like the fourth time was the charm,” said Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who took the podium to welcome the team home. He ticked off the names of L.A.'s other recent winners, from the three-peat Lakers to the two-time WNBA titleholders, the Sparks.
“We are a city of champions!” Hahn shouted in Spanish to the predominantly Latino crowd. “Viva Galaxy!”
Ezra Hendrickson, the defender named the team’s MVP in 2001, gave an emotional thank you to the fans who never abandoned the struggling franchise.
“I just want to thank you guys ... for inviting us to your party,” he said. “I remember many times we came up without it, but you stuck with us. Your loyalty throughout the years was an inspiration.” The hourlong celebration also saw a long-standing wager settled. Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas had promised to buy Ruiz a watch if he scored more than 15 goals this year.
Ruiz wound up netting a league-high 24 goals during the regular season. Lalas couldn’t make it to Saturday’s bash, but he still made good on his word: Another teammate presented Ruiz with a shiny gold Rolex.
“This coming year, we’ll have a new song,” Ruiz told the crowd in Spanish. “Champions, champions, champions!”