November 25, 2012 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Los Angeles Galaxy
CARSON, Calif. - They thought fortune was smiling when they joined the reigning MLS Cup champions, but the half-dozen rookies on the LA Galaxy roster know just how lucky they really are now that the club is one win away from another trophy.
It's been an amazing experience, all six agree, even for those who haven't seen much first-team time in their first campaigns.
"Above and beyond," said midfielder Rafael Garcia, an Angeleno who grew up a Galaxy fan but has made just one league appearance. "Coming in, I knew this was the best team in the league. I knew this group had it in them from the beginning. I know we started off a little slow, but there was no doubt in my mind. ...
"I grew up here, supported this team since it started, really. To be part of it is unbelievable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Defenders Tommy Meyer, a first-round draft choice out of Indiana, and Bryan Gaul, a supplemental selection from Bradley, have seen the most time - nearly 20 appearances apiece in all competitions - but all of them have gained greatly learning from Bruce Arena and his staff and from teammates such as David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
"It's been a crazy experience," said teenage forward Jose Villarreal, who signed as a Homegrown player in December, became eligible in July and scored the equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Vancouver in his second league game (above). "I've been able to play with players like David, Robbie and Landon, and you just learn a lot from them. Not only them, it's the entire team and the environment you're in. It makes you a better person and a better player."
Meyer has played every minute of five playoff games at center back in place of injured A.J. DeLaGarza, Villarreal got a short run in the romp over Seattle in the Western Conference final first leg, and Gaul (right) has been on the bench for four postseason matches.
Garcia and Kenney Walker, a second-round draft pick from Louisville, formed the midfield core for LA's Western Division champs in the Reserve League, and each played in one league game, and all except No. 3 goalkeeper Brian Rowe were regulars during the CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
"Even for the guys that aren't playing, it's great for us to see what it takes to go this far in the postseason ...," said Rowe, a UCLA product who made three reserve appearances and played in the second half of the Tottenham friendly after LA signed him out of the league's goalkeeper pool in mid-July. "Just to see the experience and the veterans and what it takes, you can really learn a lot."
Meyer, who is evolving into a fine center back, says the "thing I've done most is learn all season," which is what he hoped for when he heard his name called on draft day. Coming to Los Angeles was "probably the best thing that could have happened to me."
Said Walker: "Hearing from around the league, this is the best place to be. And it shows on the field and off the field."
Gaul says it's "surreal" to be surrounded by the kind of talent the Galaxy has, and playing against top players every day has helped the youngsters grow at a greater rate than they might have elsewhere.
"You come to a club like this, and you're happy just to be a part of it," he said. "And then when you get playing time, you're ecstatic. And then when you reach the MLS Cup, it's a dream come true. You can't ask for anything else."