Sampson Is Part of the Galaxy

Times Staff Writer

It’s a special challenge, Steve Sampson admitted, taking over a team two days after its coach was fired even though he had his club sitting in first place at the time of his dismissal.

But it’s not nearly the same kind of stress Sampson felt while guiding the U.S. national team to a last-place finish in the 1998 World Cup or getting Costa Rica into the next round of World Cup qualifying this summer.

Plus, coaching the Galaxy simply made sense, Sampson said Wednesday at the news conference announcing his hiring as the fourth coach in franchise history, following the recently fired Sigi Schmid, Octavio Zambrano and Lothar Osiander. Contract details were not disclosed.


“This was the perfect marriage,” Sampson said after running the Galaxy’s morning training session.

“I’d much rather be part of a team that has the tools to win a championship ... I’d much rather have that kind of pressure. The pressure is less at the club than at the national level. I think it makes it easier to coach players at the club level. The beauty at the club level is you get to train the players every day.”

Sampson, 47, has three days to get to know his team -- which earned the most points in Major League Soccer, 34, at 9-6-7 under Schmid -- before playing host to the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

But it’s not as if he has no allies in the locker room. Memo Gonzalez, Cobi Jones and Jovan Kirovski have all played for Sampson.

Gonzalez, the Galaxy’s top draft pick in 2003, languished on Schmid’s bench and wondered aloud about the possibility of playing for expansion Chivas USA next season. He was more than intrigued about playing for Sampson.

“We’re good friends but more than that he’s my coach,” he said. “Obviously, the relationship between me and Sigi was limited.

“This kind of changes my thinking [about playing for Chivas] a little bit. But we have to wait and see what happens over the next few months.”

In announcing the Schmid firing Monday, Galaxy President and General Manager Doug Hamilton said his club’s mission statement was to win championships. Yet, given the Galaxy’s current first-place standing with eight regular-season matches to play and MLS Cup 2004 in Carson, Hamilton would not say that anything less than a championship would be a failure.

“We’re not judging success solely by what happens on Nov. 14,” Hamilton said. “We gave goals and a vision. We’re not going to pin it all on a date whether it was a success or not.”

Sampson, an assistant under Schmid at UCLA from 1982 to 1985, was 26-22-14 with the U.S. national team from 1995 to 1998 and 11-7-4 at Costa Rica from 2002 until June 22, when he was fired after consecutive draws with Cuba. In 18 World Cup qualifying matches, Sampson lost only twice.

He only smiled and offered a “no comment” when asked if the Galaxy called him last fall to replace Schmid -- a report said Sampson would have come, but he could not get out of his Costa Rica contract. Sampson acknowledged that the expansion Salt Lake City franchise contacted him recently.

With the Galaxy, Sampson retained first-year assistant Martin Vasquez but replaced seventh-year goalkeepers coach Zak Abdel with Ignacio Hernandez and promises a more wide-open yet “disciplined” style of play.

And with Chivas USA moving into the Home Depot Center next season, it did not take Sampson long to stoke the flames of the budding rivalry.

“We don’t worry about another team coming into our home,” he said. “Let me make it clear -- this is the Galaxy’s home. Every non-Chivas fan, we’re going to embrace.”

Almost as much as his current roster, which has both a senior international player spot open and a discovery pick.

“The bottom line is we want to win ballgames,” Sampson said. “I don’t care about ethnicity ... Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a little more effort, being a little more attentive, being a little more precise. Sometimes you need a wake-up call.”



The Sampson File

* Name: Steve Sampson * Born: Jan. 19, 1957, in Salt Lake City

* As a player: Played his freshman season at UCLA but graduated from San Jose State in 1979.

* As a college coach: Had a 64-19-9 record in five seasons at Santa Clara -- leading the Broncos to the NCAA championship with a 20-0-3 mark in 1990 -- after four years as an assistant at UCLA.

* As a national team coach: Appointed coach of the U.S. national team in 1995, after two years as an assistant to Bora Milutinovic. Had a 26-22-14 record over four seasons and successfully led the U.S. through qualifying for the 1998 World Cup, but the team was 0-3 in France, finishing last among 32 teams and leading to his resignation. Had an 11-7-4 record as coach of the Costa Rica national team in two years before being fired June 21 after the Ticos struggled to advance past Cuba in World Cup qualifying.