Star Map: Since the early days, the LA Galaxy have always built around local talent

The Galaxy Star Map is soccer’s own atlas of Southern California’s finest players from past and present.

CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy and U.S. men’s national team legend Cobi Jones still smiles at the memories.

He vividly recalls what it was like when Major League Soccer was trying to gain a foothold in this country during its advent in the late 1990s.

“It’s amazing to see the changes from early on,” he said. “We would practice on the parking lot outside the Rose Bowl. Now you have soccer-specific stadiums with a variety of fields to pick from. That shows we have come a long way.

“You don’t have to worry about picking up glass off the field or trying to find space in between people playing Frisbee. Now you have your own manicured field; you have a dedicated crew to look after it.

“These are major steps that really pushed the envelope of soccer in the Southern California area and especially for the Galaxy.”

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the Galaxy’s emphasis on local talent. The five-time MLS Cup champions have made it an annual practice of cultivating the area’s fertile soccer landscape to build a powerhouse that is the envy of its rivals in this country.

“Back then in the early days of Major League Soccer it was all about, from the league’s standpoint, finding players that would fit the culture of the region,” said Joe Tutino, who became the team’s radio voice in 1999. “Certainly finding players that were local and from the area I think everybody likes, no matter what sport.

“You always look for that athlete that can help your pro team. That’s always been there. But as the league has grown and picked up more and more traction there’s more credibility in their own community for players that are growing up to stick with the sport.”

The 1996 draft, the league’ first, brought the Galaxy the likes of Van Nuys’ Harut Karapetyan, but they struck it rich when they were assigned Westlake Village’s Jones, a former UCLA standout who went on to become the all-time leader in caps for the U.S. men’s national team and is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

In that year’s college draft, the Galaxy added to its local trend by selecting UCLA midfielder Greg Vanney, now head coach of Toronto FC. In the third round, UCLA chose forward Ante Razov of Whittier and UCLA.

Razov became one of a select few players (along with the likes of Jaime Moreno, Jeff Cunningham and Landon Donovan) to score 100 career MLS goals.

In that year’s supplemental draft Walnut’s Paul Caligiuri went to the Columbus Crew 10th overall in the first round. Caligiuri joined the Galaxy a year later after successfully suing the league to play for his hometown team.

The franchise continued to gather local talent in the 1997 draft, one which brought in one of its most popular players ever. UCLA goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was taken in the third round and recently retired with the honor of being the first goalkeeper in MLS to have 100 career shutouts. In the first round of that year’s supplemental draft, the Galaxy landed defender Danny Pena of Inglewood.

In round three of the 1998 draft, the Galaxy chose UCLA goalkeeper Matt Reis, now in his second season as the team’s goalkeeper coach, and defender Joey Franchino of Fontana.

The 2000 SuperDraft, turned out to be one of the finest in team history. The Galaxy used the sixth pick in the first round on Montclair’s Danny Califf, who went on to play on every level of the U.S. national team from the U-17’s to the senior team. That draft also yielded UCLA midfielder Sasha Victorine, who represented the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics, and UCLA midfielder Pete Vagenas, who was named director of the Galaxy’s player academy in November of 2013.

“I think if you look at the area and the number of kids that play soccer in the area and the high level that comes out of this area,” Reis said, “it’s only a natural progression to have guys from Southern California represent the Galaxy. If you look over the last 20 years and see how many people from Southern California have represented the men’s national team, all the way down, it’s been a hotbed.

“You go to the games, the UCLAs, the Fullertons, all the way down to San Diego. There’s a lot of good college teams that play around here. You know what’s in your backyard.”

The Galaxy has been known for its astute trading as well, with perhaps no deal more impactful than the one which brought in MLS career goal and assist leader Donovan in 2005, and have signed their share of top homegrown talent, thanks to MLS’ homegrown players rule that was introduced in 2008. 

LA have signed six such players – Tristan BowenJack McBean, Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villarreal, Oscar Sorto, Bradford Jamieson IV and Raul Mendiola – all of whom have contributed to the first team.

Jones said Galaxy officials’ approach of emphasizing local talent was, and has been, a “no-brainer.”

“I think that’s what made it hopefully easier for coaches to have players to pick from and have that extra insight on players because there are so many opportunities,” he said. “People forget this is the place you can play soccer year around. This isn’t an option in other places.”