Los Angeles, With New Star, Far Eclipses City F.C.


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New York City F.C.’s Andrea Pirlo, right, and Los Angeles’s Giovani dos Santos during the first half in Carson, Calif. Dos Santos scored a goal in the Galaxy’s win.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

CARSON, Calif. — M.L.S. has long relied on former European club stars to promote its game. Two of them, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, graced the cover of the program in Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City F.C.

Though one of those stars, City’s injured Lampard, did not play in the Galaxy’s 5-1 victory, there was still plenty of top-tier talent on display at StubHub Center. Even luckier for the league — and in contrast with years past — this game also featured a new type of star player on the M.L.S. stage, one who chose to play in the United States despite being coveted by European teams and, perhaps more important, is under 30 and in his prime.

It has been an impressive season for M.L.S. as it has brought in David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Kaká, Gerrard and Lampard. While older European club players had previously joined the league, it is rare for it to be able to point to a player who chose to join an M.L.S. team over an opportunity to shine with an established European club.

Sebastian Giovinco, who left Juventus for Toronto F.C. and has been one of the best players in M.L.S this year, is one such player. Another was on display Sunday: Giovani dos Santos, 26, who represents something of a coup for the Galaxy and the league.

With dos Santos, M.L.S. now has a world-class player in his prime. For the league, and his new team, it certainly does not hurt that he is the Mexican national team’s star.

“Certainly, Giovani being Mexican and being in L.A. has added media interest,” said Chris Klein, the Galaxy’s president. “The interest is at a level that I don’t know we’ve ever seen before.”

From the league’s perspective, being able to point to the presence of dos Santos is significant in that he challenges the notion that the league is a kind of senior tour for European club stars nearing the end of their careers, something that causes M.L.S. leaders to bristle.

“I just don’t believe in any way that when a player toward the end of their career joins M.L.S., that it indicates they are not going to compete as hard for their local M.L.S. team as they did for their clubs in England, Italy or Spain,” the league’s commissioner, Don Garber, said in an email.

Klein concurred.

“We shouldn’t apologize for Steven Gerrard, for Kaká, for Lampard, for Pirlo,” he said. “Pirlo played in the Champions League final a few months ago.”

Dos Santos’s impact was felt before Sunday’s game, which sold out more than a week ahead of time.

His addition to the team speaks to an increasing level of competition in the league.

Dos Santos said through an interpreter that when he came to the United States to play with the Mexican national team, “all the fans would treat us very well, and now with the Galaxy, the support is incredible. I’ve said it before, I feel right at home, and you can tell I am enjoying myself on the field. The fan support really motivates me.”

Before the game, Galaxy fans tailgated in the parking lot. Many were first-timers who said that the signing of dos Santos was a factor in their giving M.L.S. another look.

“Dos Santos is like the face of the Mexican team now — he’s the star attraction,” said Derek Jauregui, a fan. “We used to see the stadium get somewhat full, but now it’s sold out.”

In a testament to the pull of dos Santos, some fans came from Mexico to see him play Sunday.

The game was hyped about as much as a regular-season professional soccer game has ever been in the United States, and on many accounts, it delivered.

Overcoming a few missed opportunities early in the game — letting a cross pass go by, having an open shot blocked — dos Santos made good on the expectations surrounding him by scoring a goal and assisting on another. He has scored or assisted in every game he has played for the Galaxy. Robbie Keane, the team’s captain, scored two goals and assisted on two others. The other marquee player, Gerrard, had an assist.

Despite the lopsided score, the game maintained a taut pace, which was reflected in the crowd. Even questionable late-game calls drew loud responses, without prompting by the stadium’s large video screen.

Perhaps most refreshing to new spectators of M.L.S., there was minimal flopping, a common indictment among American sports fans.

After the game, dos Santos answered a few minutes of questions, reflecting on his performance and outlook going forward. If he had designs on any larger plans beyond trying help his team win, he did not reveal them, nor did his handlers.

While waiting for a friend in the concourse, Jerry Hernandez, 17, of Los Angeles, wearing his Mexican national team jersey, said he held the league in high regard, grateful for the opportunity to see so many of what he called his “idols.”

M.L.S. is good, he said, even if he was doubtful about its prospects of reaching the heights of Europe’s top leagues. Still, he mused, “It can come close enough.”



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