Forever behind the scenes

In his 15th season with the club, equipment manager Raul Vargas provides a wealth of knowledge

DL Raul Vargas

Photo Credit: 
Robert Mora

Landon
Donovan was named the LA Galaxy's Most Valuable Player for the second year in a
row in 2009. Other winners of the award in franchise history include Cobi Jones, Kevin Hartman, Carlos Ruiz, Mauricio
Cienfuegos and Herculez Gomez.

But there
is another member of the Galaxy who doesn't even suit up for games and whose influence
on the club is as telling as any of the aforementioned players.

Raul Vargas is in his 15th year as the Galaxy's equipment
manager. He joined the team in July of 1996, the franchise's inaugural season,
and has been a fixture ever since. The soon-to-be 54-year-old's
responsibilities range from ordering and maintaining game uniforms and
equipment (as much as 1,000 pounds worth on the road), doing the team laundry,
taking care of the locker room and, most of all, making sure everything is
ready to go for coaches and players on a daily basis.

It is a
cycle that never ends.

"He's
as good as they get in this business," Galaxy head coach and general
manager Bruce Arena said about Vargas, who was honored by Major League Soccer
as its Equipment Manager of the Year in 2008. "He's tremendously
organized, and many times is many steps ahead of us.

"Whenever
we have a need he already knows. He's rare in the sense that you never need to
talk to him about what needs to be done. He's so dedicated he makes everything
easy for all of us. It can be a thankless job, but I don't think so in our case
because we know how good he is.

"We
thank him and applaud him a lot."

Vargas
arrives at team headquarters well before 7 a.m. on weekdays and often doesn't
leave until after 5 p.m. On weekend game days, his hours are even longer; he'll
arrive at Home Depot Center about 8 a.m. for an evening kickoff.

The road
can be even more demanding of his time, as will be the case this week when the
Galaxy travel to Columbus, Ohio
to take on the Columbus Crew on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. For the club's recent 1
p.m. game against the Sounders in Seattle,
for example, he left the Galaxy hotel at 6:30 a.m., went to Qwest Field and had
to pound on stadium doors until someone let him in so he could set everything
up.

"After
that you can relax," Vargas said. "Then you can take a break and get
something to eat."

Vargas
traces his equipment background to his days growing up in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua,
Mexico. He
still remembers crossing the U.S.
border -- "Legally," he said with a grin -- to purchase T-shirts and
shorts and then returning to Juarez where he
would dye them a different color. He even designed his own outfit for a
goalkeeper, the position he once played.

He was
working for the Galaxy's public relations department in 1996 when the team's
equipment manager resigned. Vargas knew Galaxy goalkeeper Jorge Campos, who
told him of the opening and Vargas soon was in his element.

Coaches and
players rave about his organizational abilities, but there have been a few
minor problems along the way. There was the time in 2001 when the Galaxy was in
Chicago and former defender Paul Caligiuri had given away both of his jerseys.
Vargas called back to Los Angeles to have
another one rushed to the club's next game in Columbus three days later. It arrived with
Caligiuri's name misspelled.

There also
was the time Carlos Hermosillo arrived in Los
Angeles in 1998. Hermosillo
was about to walk out onto the Rose Bowl field for his first game when Vargas
noticed Hermosillo
wearing No. 72 instead of No. 27. Vargas had ironed on the numbers in reverse.

Inconveniences
like those are few and far between for Vargas, who is deeply appreciated by
coaches and players as much for his presence in and around the locker room as
he is for his ability to acquire what they need, and often on a moment's
notice.

"He's
so much more than an equipment manager," said veteran midfielder Eddie
Lewis, who has known Vargas for about 15 years. "What comes with that role
is no easy task. Sometimes he's some of the players' dads, moms ... sometimes
he's their teacher.

"Raul
wears many hats. For all of us players, there are not many occasions where
something doesn't get resolved by the wise words of Raul."

Added
veteran Chris Klein, "He does so much more than just get us the gear we
need. He's someone who guys love having around. He has a great sense of humor
and guys love talking to him. He does an amazing, amazing job in the way he can
deal with so many different personalities.

"He's
here more hours than anyone, and sometimes we forget that."

Long hours
are nothing new to Vargas, who once held down three jobs simultaneously --
delivering newspapers, rebuilding clutches at a factory and working at a video
store -- before he came to the Galaxy.

He would
deliver papers from 2-6 a.m., go to the factory from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., head
over to the video store (ironically called Video Galaxy) from 5-9 p.m. and then
try to get some sleep before the next day began.

Vargas
clearly relishes his position with the Galaxy, despite its never-ending
demands.   

"You
do what you like," he said. "Sometimes it's a lot of work, but then I
say to myself, 'OK, you don't like it, resign and do something else.' Every day
is different; you never have the same routine. Sometimes you have to bring
jerseys, sometimes you have to pack, sometimes you're on the field ... you
never get bored in this.

"As
long as they want me here, I'll be here."