CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy defender Sean Franklin has come a long way since his freshman year at Cal State Northridge.
In just eight years, he has been a member of the United States U-20 and U-23 national teams, and in January got the call for the senior national team. He was the fourth overall selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, then he won MLS Rookie of the Year and now he’s considered one of the league’s top right backs.
Franklin, however, has come far without really going anywhere. A native of nearby Palmdale, Franklin plays home games about 50 miles from where he went to high school, and just a stone’s throw from Northridge.
“We have the best weather, the best fans,” Franklin told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s home for me. I would love to stay here and play and I hope I do have a long successful career here.”
Franklin enters the 2011 MLS season with high hopes. A fixture on the right side, he could continue to force US coach Bob Bradley’s hand and battle for a spot on the Gold Cup roster. And if Franklin can make the team and the Americans can make it that far, the Gold Cup final is fittingly set to be played in the Rose Bowl.
More pressing, though, is his desire to win a title for his hometown team.
“A couple of years ago, getting that taste of being in the Cup – that’s all you dream about," he said. "It’s kind of like the Super Bowl. Last year was disappointing, to be so close and not go again, it’s heartbreaking. I just want to win this year. Really bad.”
The Road To the HDC
Playing in Major League Soccer, let alone suiting up for his hometown club, was not something Franklin necessarily foresaw when he began attending Cal State Northridge. A standout for Highland High School, Franklin did not receive a college scholarship.
But eventually, his play opened doors that led to some daydreaming.
“I really didn’t start thinking that I’d have a chance at MLS until I got called into the U-20s and then again with the U-23s,” Franklin said. “I started thinking ‘OK, maybe I do have a chance.’”
Around his junior year, he began to ponder a potential career in MLS, and he went into his final season with the Matadors hoping for a chance to play professionally.
“Going into my last year, I was excited," he said. "It was a big year and I wanted to play well and hopefully go to the combine and get drafted."
However, a broken arm was a potentially disastrous stumbling block.
“I ended up getting hurt the summer before my senior year and was out,” he said. “I missed half the senior season and I started thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to miss half the season and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to show over the last few games and get drafted.’
“Luckily I was able to show well, get invited to the combine and get drafted.”
Draft day brought further hopes and dreams, but even Franklin did not want to overreach.
“I had no thoughts of me even going in the first round,” he said. “I ended up getting picked at No. 4 for LA and my family was excited. They knew it was a good spot for me. They could drive an hour and see me play. Everyone was excited that I got picked up by LA.”
Although Galaxy coach Bruce Arena wasn’t at the helm when Franklin was taken in the 2008 draft, he said the move was a logical one.
“He's well liked by his teammates,” Arena said. “He's soft-spoken, works hard, does everything that's asked of him, is a good teammate and he gives a lot of time to charitable events that we organize. He's just a good, quality person. It's great for us to have a native of Southern California that's part of our team and has that kind of approach and attitude about things.”
Surviving The Purge
Franklin is a bit of a rarity in the Galaxy roster. He is just one of five players who were on the roster when Arena took over as coach in Aug. 2008 and survived the roster purge the club’s general manager implemented shortly thereafter.
It was not difficult, though, to realize that Franklin was a valuable player for the future, Arena said, with one minor stipulation.
“He was playing center back,” Arena said. “One of the things I did believe was that he's not a center back, although he can play there and play well there.”
Arena quickly moved Franklin to the right flank and eventually Franklin hammered down the position.
“He’s really a right back,” Arena said. “His one-on-one defending is good. His pace is very good and his ability to go forward is good. It was only logical to me that he's best suited to play as a right back if we could do that.”
Franklin posted career highs in starts (27) games and minutes (2,385) his rookie season. Despite playing out of position, Franklin nabbed Rookie of the Year honors in 2008, and did so on one of the worst defenses in recent MLS history.
“It was a long, tough year for the Galaxy and the whole organization,” Franklin said. “Up-and-down games – we scored the most goals, but we also gave up the most goals. It was just a long, tough year. Rookie of the Year wasn’t even close [to being a goal]. … I just kind of put that aside.”
Elation at being selected by the home team was soon replaced with the realization that he’d have to roll up his sleeves and get to work if he wanted to stick around.
“What kept me grounded was [thinking], ‘I am a rookie,'" Frankln recalled. "'I don’t have the years that some other guys do. I know it’s going to be tough and I have to show and work my butt off, and this is no easy ride.' That’s what kept me motivated and made me want to get better.”
Now that he’s an established starter and a weapon for the Galaxy on the right flank, Franklin’s mentality and approach to his profession have not changed much.
“A lot of it’s just staying fit, staying soccer-ready for the season comes,” Franklin said. “When the coach tells you to do some extra work after practice, it’s doing that extra work. It’s important not only to show it during practice but what you do outside practice hours and that’s important for your growth as a soccer player.”