Harut Karapetyan’s promising professional career may have been cut short due to injuries and coaching decisions, but those sour moments can’t take away from the MLS original’s accomplishments as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
A regular on the Southern California soccer scene in the years leading up to the start of MLS, Karapetyan played for Los Angeles Salsa of the American Professional Soccer League in 1993.
Once MLS became a reality, Karapetyan received an invitation for the league’s tryouts in the winter of 1995 in Irvine where he caught the eye of Galaxy head coach Lothar Osiander, eventually becoming the club’s seventh round selection the 1996 MLS Inaugural Player Draft.
“I came to this country when I was 17 and I was playing for the Armenian national team. To see that soccer wasn’t that big [in the U.S.] back then kind of frustrated me but I had a lot of hope that one day, eventually the game is going to be very popular and I reached my goal,” Karapetyan told LAGalaxy.com. “Then finally, when the Major League Soccer comes up, I got an invitation for the tryouts and impressed Lothar so I was able to be drafted by the Galaxy.”
As a member of the Galaxy, Karapetyan was a regular starter during the first two years in MLS, even earning the start in the 1996 MLS Cup Final against D.C. United. After making 66 appearances in postseason and regular season play while scoring 14 goals in his first two years, Karapetyan struggled to make an impact with LA in 1998. He would make 15 appearances while tallying four goals that year, but enjoyed a performance that summer that still stands in the MLS record books.
His true claim to fame came on June 6, 1998 against the Dallas Burn when he tallied the fastest hat trick by one player in league history. After coming on for Daniel Hernandez in the 78th minute, Karapetyan rattled off three goals in the 82nd, 85th and 87th minutes to help lead LA to an 8-1 thrashing of Dallas. The victory remains tied for the most lopsided win in league history and LA’s eight goals are the most scored by a single team in one match.
A plethora of attacking talent has suited up in MLS since that fateful game at the Cotton Bowl, but Karapetyan’s record has stood the test of time.
“In that game I think I played the last 15 minutes. I was really pumped, I was in good shape, and just tried to prove a point that I can be on the field and be productive for the team,” Karapetyan recalls before admitting that the match was the beginning of the end of his time with Los Angeles.
“Right after the game I went to [then Galaxy head coach Octavio Zambrano] and told him I hope you understand it’s not working out, there are other teams interested,” he said. “Back then New York and Dallas were interested, but he decided to trade me somewhere where they were not interested to San Jose Clash, who that had the best winger in the league in Eddie Lewis.”
This first stint in San Jose was a forgettable one as he made just five appearances before suffering a torn left abdominal muscle and being callously placed on the waiver wire by then Clash boss Brian Quinn. As he attempted to recover from surgery, Karapetyan latched on with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1999, but only made a pair of appearances tallying just a single assist.
Karapetyan attempted to return to the Galaxy ahead of the 2000 MLS regular season and drew interest from then-LA head coach Sigi Schmid. Such a move was always desired by Karapetyan, who had lived in Southern California since arriving from Armenia in his teens. Despite that wish, a discovery claim by Kansas City Wizards boss Bob Gansler prevented a move to the Galaxy. Per Karapetyan’s recollection, Kansas City asked for a first or second round MLS SuperDraft pick in exchange for his rights.
The move would never come to fruition, as Karapetyan would instead re-join Osiander with the San Jose Earthquakes and make 20 appearances while scoring twice and tallying two assists. Another injury and another stint on the waiver wire after the 2000 season led Karapetyan to reconsider his professional options and eventually chose to retire at the age of 29.
“It was a frustration because I dedicated my life to be a professional soccer player. People like me find a way to dedicate to the sport through the decade by working hard,” said Karapetyan. “Despite playing in Sunday leagues to keep in shape, playing for the L.A. Salsa, through it all, I never gave up. When you finally reach the league and these things happen to you think, “I’ve done a lot to get where I am, but what happened was really unfair.”
Instances like Karapetyan were not forgotten by the MLS Players Union, who helped create the Re-Entry Draft process in 2011 which assists released players in finding new work in MLS.
His career may have ended before his time, but Karapetyan’s Galaxy teammates described him as a tireless worker with star midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos raving about the forward’s hard work and attacking ability. But no one offered more of an endorsement of the Armenian’s skills than defender Robin Fraser, who tested himself against Karapetyan each day in training.
“Harut was shot out of a cannon on the left side of the field. He had great pace, he could just blow by guys, and he could, absolutely, crush the ball,” Fraser told LAGalaxy.com. “Harut used to terrorize my good friend Mark Dodd, a goalkeeper at Dallas, because he could be seemingly anywhere in the attacking half and out of nowhere, he would unleash this cannon and goalkeepers would have a tough time dealing with.
“He was a player who I think in his time in MLS, had a big impact, scored big goals, and created many goal scoring opportunities,” the two-time MLS Defender of the Year added. “He was very goal-minded so whether he was creating chances or scoring goals himself, he was able to have a big impact in a short amount of time.”
After retiring in 2000, Karapetyan has traded in his soccer cleats for a suit and tie as he has become the general sales manager at Honda of Hollywood. He lives with his wife Eliza, 16-year-old son Gary and eight-year-old daughter Mary.
To this day as he moves cars off the lot, Galaxy fans still approach him to discuss his record setting hat trick and his legacy in MLS.
“A lot of people recognize my last name and first name and I’m honored,” he said. “The clientele they tell me exactly what they thought of me, the red cards [I received], the minutes that I played, and the goals that I scored. Sometimes it’s just very interesting when you meet people that know everything about you.”
Unfortunately, a family commitment will keep Karapetyan from suiting up with the Galaxy Alumni in Saturday’s match against the LA Under-18’s, but the MLS original admits that despite the way that his career ended, he’d never trade his memories of 1996 for anything.
“It’s very special, especially the 1996 and 1997 seasons, and I would never forget the final game against D.C. United. We had a phenomenal season that year, we got to the final and in the last 15 minutes we let it slip through our hands,” said Karapetyan. “It was a special moment and I’ll always remember that day. Playing in that rain, the field probably had four inches of water, I mean it was pouring. To play in the first MLS final was a great, great memory.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com