DL Raul Vargas
Robert Mora

Forever behind the scenes

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."