Giovani Dos Santos' arrival has LA Galaxy raising their ambitions
CARSON, Calif. -- On a typically sunny day in Southern California last week, Giovani Dos Santos strode out to the LA Galaxy practice field, stopping briefly by a cordoned area where fans eagerly awaited autographs.
One of the security officers on the scene noted that the fan crowd hadn't been so large since the days of David Beckham's tenure with the team.
Clearly Dos Santos is not just any other designated player signing.
"On the field, he's fantastic," said Jovan Kirovski, the Galaxy technical director who was instrumental in arranging the arrival of Dos Santos to the club. "He has flair, he's dynamic, he's exciting. There's that part of it. Then, being Mexican, here in Southern California, that's just a plus and a huge factor. He checked every box you can have and he's just 26 years old."
So far, Dos Santos has met or even exceeded expectations on the field, scoring a goal in his first two matches -- both Galaxy wins. Although he's not yet at full fitness, his adaptation to Major League Soccer is perhaps going more smoothly because he has played for years already in the U.S., competing in Gold Cup competitions, World Cup qualifying and in numerous international friendlies.
"He's a very good technical footballer," said English midfielder Steven Gerrard, who transferred to the club from Liverpool earlier this summer. "I'm sure he's got a very bright future here in L.A."
Dos Santos' youth is a key aspect to what makes the signing of the Mexican international different for the Galaxy and MLS. For all his talent and years in Europe, Dos Santos hasn't, perhaps, reached his ceiling as a player yet. His best days could come in Galaxy colors.
Spain-born Ignacio Maganto, who at 23 is part of the Galaxy's youthful generation of players, certainly expects that to be the case.
"He's a great player, one who makes everything easier for the rest of us," Maganto said. "He's a young player and he's going to be here for a while."
At the end of practice, Dos Santos remained on the field, taking shots on goal with Robbie Keane and Gerrard, among others. At one point, defender Omar Gonzalez back-heeled a short pass to Dos Santos, but the forward wasn't looking for it and the ball slid by, untouched. Gonzalez grinned and shrugged, as if to say, "Next time."
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said the team's adaptation to its new stars is progressing well, but he still expects it to take some time.
"We have a way to go," the manager said. "We'll need at least another month with this group to really get settled in."
That timeline should have the Galaxy and Dos Santos primed to make a playoff run for another MLS championship.
"When you come to a new place, you want to have a good start, show your teammates what you are about -- he's already shown that," Kirovski said. "He's got the best coach in the history of U.S. soccer here, who I'm sure will guide him and make him an even better player than he is."
The prestigious No. 10 jersey that Galaxy icon Landon Donovan (a key part of four of the team's five championships) once wore now belongs to Dos Santos, but that doesn't mean they're exactly the same type of player. Galaxy defender Dan Gargan, who helped design a match poster commemorating Dos Santos' MLS debut against the Seattle Sounders, pointed out the differences between the two.
"Landon was probably a little bit more of a two-way player than Gio," he said. "Gio's probably a bit more attack-oriented."
Certain similarities shine through, though.
"He's got great vision, he's creative, he's got those good touches and those fast feet," forward Alan Gordon said. "You know that you need to get him the ball and that when you get him the ball, he's going to do something good with it. Landon was the same way."
Gordon has had a funny and unique experience in the Galaxy debuts of both Beckham and Dos Santos, eight years apart. He was the player subbed off the field for both stars as they came in for their first action as Galaxy players.
"If that's a special moment for everybody, I'm glad to be a part of it, but I'd rather be on the field with them," Gordon explained. "When I am on the field with them, passing them the ball and scoring goals, that'll mean more to me than subbing out for either one of them."
With such a stacked team, the Galaxy players know that opponents will have extra motivation to take them down.
"Being the champions quite a lot the past few years, and having the star power that we've boasted over the last few years, we know that we are everyone's biggest game every week," Gargan said.
The Galaxy's success and ability to draw in star power in MLS has raised some concerns about whether it gets favoritism from the league, but the club has forcefully pushed back any of those allegations.
"We work very hard at what we do, and we play by the same rules that everyone else does," Galaxy president Chris Klein told ESPN FC.
If anything, the Galaxy's past accomplishments have spurred the team to aim even higher, beyond another league title.
"We want it all," Gargan noted. "I certainly don't think a CONCACAF Champions League title is out of reach, either."
No MLS squad has won the modern version of that regional championship yet.
"As a player, it's all about trying to create history," Gerrard noted. "It's a fantastic opportunity for us. But it's going to be tough. Now we have to find a level of consistency that whoever we play, we'll be a very difficult side for them to face. We're ready for anything now because we've got Gio in, we've got the Gold Cup guys back, and the squad is looking very strong."
Andrea Canales covers both Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.