Mauricio Cienfuegos was once the heart of a Los Angeles Galaxy squad that regularly battled for MLS titles. He'd like to see his old squad return to the glory days of the past, but he's not sure the current signs are encouraging.
On the bricks in a section of the Home Depot Center Stadium in Carson, California, is the Los Angeles Galaxy's Wall of Legends. Metal plaques honor members of the organization that made a true difference to the club. One of the two living legends who are enshrined on that wall was recently at the sidelines of the practice fields of the complex, but not in any coaching capacity.
In fact, former Galaxy playmaker Mauricio Cienfuegos hasn't coached since leaving Nejapa F.C. in his native El Salvador. He led the club well in his debut season, but had a bumpier road in the follow-up year before abandoning the project.
What Cienfuegos would prefer to do is coach where he spent the majority of his career - Major League Soccer. Until then, though, observing practices of visiting teams kept him near the sport he loves.
Cienfuegos clearly also still loves his old team, and waxed nostalgic about Galaxy days gone by when we chatted recently. With no recorder, it was an informal conversation, but a few things he brought up stuck with me.
I mentioned that I'd been to the U.S. national team camp and had spoken with Danny Califf. Califf had talked about how though he was happy playing in Scandinavia, it made him sad to how far the Galaxy had fallen, missing the playoffs three years in a row.
"Ah, Danny," Cienfuegos lamented. "He was the type of player the Galaxy needed to keep back then, a young player who was the future of the squad. He won a championship with us. He knew what it took to get there."
I brought up the fact that not a single player was left on the squad from that 2002 team that won the Galaxy's first championship.
Cienfuegos shook his head. He didn't think that coach Sigi Schmid should have been fired, but more than that, he didn't think the team should have let go of so many players. He pointed out that it was difficult for players to form attachments to an organization or chemistry among themselves with so much turnover.
"A team loses its soul when it loses so many players so often," Cienfuegos said.
The 2005 Galaxy squad that won another MLS championship was also later decimated. The only player left from the team that took the field that day is Landon Donovan, and bets are running high for him not to return from his Bayern Munich loan this year.
Change is inevitable, and if the Galaxy squads of the past had been perfect, they probably wouldn't have been shuffled so completely. But a larger part of that picture is that certain coaches are partial to certain players. With the Galaxy switching coaches out so often, it paved the way for each one to remake the club a little to his own preference, even if it disturbed the tiny bit of continuity the squad had established.
"Players need to believe in something bigger than themselves," said Cienfuegos. "That's how they find that extra bit of fight that makes the difference in a close game. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team when they believe that it matters. But one doesn't create that feeling instantly. It takes time."
Cienfuegos talked about how in order to be successful, a quality team has young players learning from the experienced squad leaders, the ones who bleed for the club.
He asked, "Who does that now for the team?"
I couldn't answer him.
The Galaxy open preseason training today. Their veteran players, Donovan and David Beckham, won't even be there. More than that, neither is acting much like they want to return. Donovan is trying to establish himself at Bayern Munich, and Beckham is focused on impressing Fabio Capello to earn more international caps with England.
The Salvadoran didn't begrudge the pair their interests outside of the Galaxy. His implied point was obvious, though. If the two top players on the team weren't concentrating on improving the Galaxy, how motivated were a group of newcomers going to be about that particular task?
It was a bit unsettling to think that there might be more former Galaxy players, like Cienfuegos and Califf, sad and concerned about the Galaxy's pitiful state than the players actually currently on the squad.
With so little connection to the Galaxy, or the history of the team, there's a decent chance that Cienfuegos, the Galaxy legend, could attend a team practice tomorrow and go unrecognized by most of the players there.
It's unlikely that a roster so detached from its past will be a cohesive one on the field. In some ways, that makes Cienfuegos' overall place in Galaxy history more secure than ever. A squad that lacks unity and a sense of purpose isn't likely to add many more names to that wall of legends.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor for Goal.com USA
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