From the very moment that Giovani dos Santos signed with the LA Galaxy, Los Angeles has welcomed the city’s newest Mexican star with open arms.
Walk through StubHub Center on any given gameday and you’ll see legions of Dos Santos No. 10 Galaxy jerseys and shirts littered around the crowd. Thousands flocked to East LA for the Mexican Independence Day Parade to catch a glimpse of the El Tri star. Dos Santos even received the Excellence in Sports Award at last year’s LA Times Latinos de Hoy Awards.
Now as the striker heads into his first full season with the club, Gio has designs of becoming an integral part of the city’s sports fabric.
“Los Angeles is truly a fantastic place. I’ve gotten so much love and respect from the Latino community. Every day outside of training, I feel the support of the fans. I feel blessed,” Dos Santos told LA Galaxy Insider. “I always feel excited about seeing people cheering my name. It’s great. It’s one of the greatest things from soccer because you can feel their passion. My teammates and coaches have also been incredibly supportive. I love everything about LA.”
Los Angeles has always felt something like a second home for the Mexican forward who endured a somewhat vagabond career after leaving Mexico to join FC Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy at age 11. Following his 2008 departure from Barcelona, Dos Santos bounced around Europe with stops in England, Turkey and later back to Spain before joining the Galaxy last August.
Southern California is a natural fit for the striker who is already a hero with the Mexican national team thanks to nearly a decade of memorable moments with El Tri. Whether it was leading the U-17’s to the nation’s first world soccer title in 2005, to winning a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, or his FIFA World Cup appearances in 2010 and 2014, Dos Santos was already a household name throughout Los Angeles before joining the Galaxy.
Since his arrival, Angelenos, be they Mexican, American or otherwise, have taken to their new hero with banners and songs at StubHub Center. And with each goal or selfie taken, Dos Santos admits that Los Angeles feels more like home in ways that Spain and England never could.
“Absolutely. It’s closer to home to me. Anywhere I go there is always other Mexicans. It always feels so good to be back at home,” Dos Santos said. “I feel proud of everything that I’ve done in my career, but it’s a responsibility at the end of the day, because I know that people are going to come and watch me play. I just want to make the community happy and proud of what I’ve done.”
That the Southern California Latino community has rallied behind Dos Santos so quickly is of little surprise. Not since legendary Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela or famed boxer Oscar De La Hoya has the Latino community in Los Angeles had an athlete that the community at large could support.
Whether Dos Santos can reach those lofty levels remains to be seen, but the wheels are already in motion.
“This is a game changer. The Galaxy is vesting themselves with the growing Latino community in Los Angeles,” United States Congressman Xavier Becerra told LAGalaxy.com when Dos Santos signed with the club last August. “They’re bonding. You’re making people feel like they’re family now. When you have this type of commitment to a team, no matter the sport, you don’t care how many iterations of players you go through, you love the team because that’s how you grew up … [Giovani dos Santos] has given millions of Angelenos a reason to feel vested with the Galaxy. This is a new day now.”
That sort of pressure might cause a burden any player regardless of their abilities, but the 26-year-old Mexican believes that he can create those sort of connections with the City of Angels.
“It’s why I came here. I hope to be a real star in Los Angeles,” Dos Santos said. “I want the city to be proud of me, and there are a lot of Americans who have started to like soccer. All of the Latin American people love soccer already, so it’s a great opportunity for me to be a star here in L.A.”
For Dos Santos to put himself on the level of the likes of Landon Donovan, Kobe Bryant, and Wayne Gretzky in hall of LA sports legends, he’ll have to produce on the field.
The 2016 edition of the Galaxy seemingly offers Dos Santos with every tool needed to succeed in MLS as Bruce Arena added considerable defensive reinforcements such as Nigel de Jong, Jelle van Damme, and Ashley Cole to a squad that already included attack-minded veterans Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard. As the youngest of the Galaxy’s star-studded bunch, plenty will be expected of Dos Santos to blossom into the team’s chief offensive threat much like Donovan did during his early years in Los Angeles.
Given Dos Santos’ ambitions, the Mexican forward does not shy away from the challenge that lies ahead. Rather, he’s determined to press forward and prove to Los Angeles and the world that he can be the player that all expect him to become.
“I feel like I came in the prime of my career. I have many more years left to give to soccer,” Dos Santos admits. “I made the right decision to come to a great club that is growing every single day. I have everything here to improve my ability.”