The first time the Galaxy approached Mexican national team star Giovani Dos Santos about a move to Southern California was in 2011. The team still had David Beckham and Landon Donovan, but it also had a few million dollars it could invest on a designated player, and it wanted Dos Santos.
“He just wasn’t ready to come,” Galaxy President Chris Klein recalled.
So the team signed Robbie Keane instead.
The Galaxy tried again in 2013. Same result. So when Donovan retired, the team signed Steven Gerrard instead.
But this week the Galaxy’s patience and persistence were finally rewarded when Dos Santos agreed to a 4 1/2-year contract reportedly worth $27 million. Add in the $7-million transfer fee the Galaxy paid to Spanish club Villarreal for the right to sign Dos Santos and the deal’s value swells to $34 million, the most expensive in franchise history.
“We’ve come to a point where it’s the right time for the Galaxy, it’s the right time for Giovani to come and put on a Galaxy shirt,” Klein said. “We’re very excited about what the potential is for him. What he can do not only personally, but for our club.”
And what he can do for the club is significant. A flashy player with speed, excellent ballhandling skills and the ability to improvise, Dos Santos will bring a new dimension to the Galaxy’s often-staid 4-4-2 approach when he joins the lineup after duty with the Mexican national team in this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“His first touch is excellent,” Galaxy Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena said. “He’s got great vision. In and around the penalty area, he’s very dangerous.
“He can be a playmaker. He can be a goal scorer. He can go by people with or without the ball. He’s got the kind of qualities our team needs.”
But what makes the signing one of the most significant in the history of both the team and of Major League Soccer is Dos Santos’ age and nationality. A veteran of two World Cups, Dos Santos is just 26 and entering the prime of his career. That counters the argument that MLS is little more than a rest stop for aging players looking for one last paycheck on their way to retirement.
And as a Mexican, Dos Santos offers both the team and the league entry into a huge and lucrative Mexican American marketplace neither has been able to leverage.
“It’s the next step,” Klein said. “There’s so many things that have to happen for our league to continue to take giant steps forward like we’ve done. We have to have big players in our league.”
Dos Santos’ signing follows by a week the Galaxy’s introduction of Gerrard, the former Liverpool and English national team captain who will make his MLS debut Friday at the StubHub Center. But Gerrard is 35, the same age as Keane, the league most valuable player.
Dos Santos, meanwhile, will be the team’s third-youngest starter when he plays his first game for the Galaxy on Aug. 9 against the Seattle Sounders.
“Giovani coming in at the time of his career where he’s just entering his prime is a really important statement for the Galaxy and a really important statement for MLS,” Klein said.
And the league and the team were equally important in completing the signing, with last week’s change in MLS salary guidelines clearing the way for the Galaxy and Dos Santos to sign an agreement that had essentially been agreed to weeks earlier.
Before last week, teams were limited to three “designated players,” whose contracts count only partially against the league salary cap. The Galaxy’s three DP spots were occupied by Gerrard, Keane and U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez, leaving no room for the kind of money Dos Santos wanted.
But when the league approved the use of special “allocation money” to pay down the salary of a DP, it allowed teams with sufficient resources to create a new slot to sign an additional player at a higher salary. In the Galaxy’s case, it gave that money to Gonzalez, who earned $1 million last season. By using its $500,000 in allocation money on his contract, the Galaxy was able to fit it under the salary threshold, allowing the team to sign Dos Santos.
Arena acknowledged Dos Santos also has his share of detractors who have doubted his commitment throughout his career — which may explain why he’s played for seven European clubs in nine years, making more than 30 appearances with just one, Villarreal. And the temptations he’ll face in Southern California’s nonstop party atmosphere will rival anything he saw in Europe.
“From talking to him, I think he’s a good kid. I know other people say otherwise,” Arena said. “You hear that about everybody all the time. That goes along with it.”
And those wayward players are the ones Arena has long been most successful with anyway.
“I want to make him a better player,” he said.