Last week when the Galaxy players arrived at LAX ahead of the Asia Pacific Tour, there were two players that were conspicuously absent. The first of the two absentees was Donovan Ricketts, who was in the process of being traded to Montreal after spending three years in goal for the Galaxy. The other was midfielder Chris Birchall, who had just come off of a strong postseason showing in which he appeared in all four of the Galaxy’s games, starting in central midfield in place of the suspended Juninho in Game Two against New York while coming on as a second half substitute in the other three matches, including the MLS Cup win over Houston.
However, a family emergency arose over the Thanksgiving holiday, forcing the midfielder to be excused from the Jakarta portion of the tour. Always one of the most popular players in the team, Birchall’s presence was missed on the cross-Pacific flight as well as the throughout the team’s time in Indonesia, though many of his teammates were quick to reach out to him and offer their support.
WATCH: Catching up with Chris Birchall
“As soon as I knew for certain that I couldn’t make the flight with the guys on Saturday, I was disappointed, but it was something that I couldn’t help so I had to get my head around,” Birchall said. “I had to be at home for family reasons, but I had players like Robbie, Becks and Josh especially saying that they were gutted that I couldn’t come but that they sent their best and hoped that I could make it out at some point.”
But with his family situation settled by the middle of the week, Birchall worked with Bruce Arena to make sure that he stayed in the club’s plans for the final two games of the tour. Once the final decision had been made to try and get Birchall to Manila in time for Saturday’s game, the club’s administrative staff rushed to book him a ticket as quickly as possible. But with little more than a day’s notice, there were no flights available to fly him directly from Los Angeles to Manila. As a result, the 27-year-old Trinidad and Tobago international woke up on Wednesday morning and flew Japan Airlines from Los Angeles to Tokyo that afternoon, a 13-hour flight, before racing to catch a connecting flight on the same airliner to Manila, which was another six-hour flight.
“To be honest it was probably better that I did it on my own because there was nobody keeping me up,” Birchall joked. “Thirteen hours on the first one would have seemed a lot longer if I had someone I knew next to me. Instead I just relaxed and tried to get as much sleep as possible, although I think that I only got three or four hours.
“It was mentally, getting off the first one and rushing for the second one that was toughest, but it was good.”
After arriving late on Thursday night, roughly nine hours after the rest of the squad arrived in the Philippine capital, Birchall was excited to meet up with his teammates and get back into the banter and hi-jinx that he is always a central figure in (as you can see in the video). All in all though, Birchall was just happy to be back on the field, playing soccer for the LA Galaxy and with everything fine back at home.
“Family comes first and that was the most important thing to me,” he added. “Obviously I wanted to come with the guys from the start so that we could feel like a team and celebrate that we won the MLS Cup, but with the situation at home, it was a no brainer that I had to stay. But thankfully everything went well and I was able to join the team and celebrate our accomplishments.
“It made it fun that when I got here, the guys weren’t expecting to see me until the morning, but I surprised them met up with them all right when I got here. We’ve got a great team spirit and it’s nice to know that your other players want you around and think that you fun to have around. It’s nice to feel like I was wanted.”