For more than three decades Steven Gerrard knew no city other than Liverpool and no soccer club other than the one that plays on Anfield Road.
He joined the Liverpool Academy when he was 9, signed his first professional contract with the team when he was 17 and became its captain at 23.
So when management came to him at 34 and said it wasn’t sure he still had a place with the club, Gerrard did what any clear-thinking person would do when his family rejected him: He ran away from home.
He eventually wound up in the warm embrace of the Galaxy and after a shaky acclimation, what started as a marriage of convenience is beginning to pay dividends for both sides. The Galaxy, who take an eight-game unbeaten streak into Sunday’s game with the San Jose Earthquakes at StubHub Center, got a solid midfielder while Gerrard, who has a goal or assist in four straight games, got a chance to see the world while proving he still has a lot left in the tank.
“I can honestly say I’m really enjoying the experience.”
It hasn’t always been that way. When Gerrard joined the Galaxy in June, he was lost — and it showed in his performance. After recording a goal and an assist in his MLS debut, Gerrard got on the scoresheet only three more times in 13 games.
Then in the playoffs, his defensive mistake on a free kick contributed to a Seattle goal in a 3-2 loss that marked the Galaxy’s earliest exit since 2008.
Gerrard never blamed any of that on being homesick. But it was clear he had the symptoms.
“I’m coming into a brand-new locker room. I don’t know any of the staff. Don’t know any of the supporters. I don’t know where I’m going to be living. I don’t know the area. I don’t know the rules of the road. I don’t know anything,” he said Friday. “So it was always going to take a certain amount of time.”
Gerrard had never played a home game outside Liverpool.
“Our culture is different, on and off the field,” Arena said. “Anybody, when they relocate, that’s challenging. And you’re in a profession [where] everyone’s a critic. So these things are never easy.”
Gerrard was also away from his family for the first time. In the English Premier League, trips are rarely longer than a day, so Gerrard was usually home in time to tuck his three daughters in each night. When he moved to the Galaxy, school kept the girls home in England and left Gerrard alone in the three-bedroom house he rented in Beverly Hills.
“But the biggest transition, which surprised me,” he said “was the style [of play]. It was completely different to what I was used to.”
The game was the one thing Gerrard thought he knew. However in MLS, he said, teams frequently play off the front foot and mark man to man. They’re different tactically as well. For Gerrard, who joined the team in midseason, that presented a huge learning curve — which is a fact, he says, not an excuse.
This season, with the benefit of both a six-week preseason training camp and a better understanding of the L.A. freeways, Gerrard says he’s far more comfortable, both on and off the field. And that, too, has shown in his performance: Gerrard has already equaled last year’s total of two goals and three assists despite playing less than half as many minutes and taking fewer than half as many shots.
His numbers would be even better had the 35-year-old not missed three full games and most of two others because of injury. So while Gerrard hasn’t forgotten about Liverpool, he doesn’t think about it much anymore either.
Yes, he’ll go back when his contract expires in December. But that’s because he has a house and family there and not because he wants to play there. Whether he plays anywhere after this season, he says, is up to the Galaxy.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone else,” he said. “But I don’t want to talk about that far down the line. I want to talk about the present and that’s basically the Galaxy fighting for the sixth MLS [Cup].
“I want this journey to end on a high note,” he said. “I’ve got no regrets at all.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11
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