It wasn’t even a month ago that Steven Gerrard was the fresh face in town for the Galaxy, drawing in scores of media outlets and fans for his first practice and introductory news conference.
On Tuesday, even more media showed up. The number of fans had grown into the hundreds. And when Giovani dos Santos left the practice field, those fans chanted his name and swarmed for autographs and pictures.
Gerrard may have more caps and goals on the international stage than Dos Santos, but Tuesday confirmed what many suspected when the Galaxy announced Dos Santos’s signing on July 14: the 26-year-old Mexican striker has a lot of star power in Southern California.
Fans sported Mexican national jerseys and Galaxy shirts in equal measure, and at his news conference, Dos Santos took questions in English and Spanish. U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, himself Latino, was also on hand.
Galaxy President Chris Klein acknowledged how important it was for the team, which has no other Mexican players, to get a young, popular star that can connect with Los Angeles’ Latino population.
“L.A. is a very diverse city,” he said. “Adding Giovani is only an addition to that, and I think the opportunity is big. … We’ve been on a course for a long time to establish ourselves with the fans who live in L.A.”
But Klein, Coach Bruce Arena and several Galaxy players emphasized that Dos Santos’ nationality, while nice, is less important than what he will contribute on the pitch.
“If Giovani was Italian, we would still want him here,” Arena said. “The first criteria to signing him was his qualities as a player.”
Robbie Keane has already played with Dos Santos in Europe, and again endorsed his ability Tuesday.
“Very sharp, very technically skilled, very clever,” Keane said of Dos Santos. “He can score goals, he can set people up. If me and him do play up top together, I’m sure there will be lots of interchanging. It’ll be very difficult for defenders.”
Dos Santos is already drawing comparisons to one Galaxy legend, Landon Donovan, with his speed and ability to play multiple positions.
It’s not one he’s all that interested in.
“I think everyone knows Landon is a great player and I have a lot of respect for him. But I’m Giovani Dos Santos. Hopefully we can win a lot of titles and make our own history with the club,” he said.
He will begin writing that history Thursday, when the Galaxy play Central FC as part of the CONCACAF Champions League. Despite an injury playing for Mexico in the Gold Cup, Arena said Dos Santos will play “in some capacity” but declined to specify how many minutes that might entail.
Arena did say Dos Santos was meshing well with the rest of the team, noting that good players always have an easier time integrating into the locker room.
Dos Santos agreed.
“I feel great. My teammates are all very nice people. Yes, it was a difficult transition for me and my family to come to the MLS, but I thought it was the right moment to do it,” he said.
With the addition of Dos Santos to the MLS’ top scoring offense, the Galaxy have an embarrassment of riches on the attacking end and are strong contenders to repeat as league champions.
But Klein said the team’s ambitions go beyond MLS Cups, and the addition of Dos Santos is another step forward in that regard.
“The team that we’re building, the MLS Cup is important, the Champions League is important, every competition that we enter is important. We want to win everything that’s out there. We’re aiming for something bigger. We want to set the standard for the MLS like we have before.”