How do you improve on a championship-winning team? It's a question that Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid and Doug Hamilton, the club's vice president and general manager, began asking each other almost as soon as Carlos Ruiz and company had won Major League Soccer's 2002 championship game in October.
On Friday, Schmid and Hamilton went a long way toward answering it at the MLS draft in Kansas City, Mo. Months of work had gone into the draft, much of it done by assistant coaches Ralph Perez and Pieter Lehrer and goalkeeper coach Zak Abdel. During the off-season, the five had discussed and debated scores of players and dozens of possibilities. They had evaluated MLS players, A-League players, college players, high school players. They had talked about who could be lured to Los Angeles and who could be let go.
And in the end they came up with a plan.
A quick trip to Florida to scout potential draft choices at the MLS combine in Fort Lauderdale was followed by a flight to Kansas City and a couple of days of what might be called late-night deals in dark-cornered saloons.
"There was a lot of horse-trading, a lot of poker being played," Hamilton admitted. "It was a lot of fun. There was some stress involved. We had the players targeted that we wanted. Making sure that we got those, taking calculated risks [in the draft], and not showing our cards were an important part of it."
The MLS draft was held in conjunction with the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America (NSCAA) convention, meaning that Kansas City, for once, was filled with people who could tell Clint Mathis from Clint Eastwood. Or just about, now that Mathis has taken to wearing snakeskin boots.
To liven things up even more, MLS opened the draft to the public, and an estimated 1,500 people packed into Bartle Hall in the Kansas City Convention Center. "This draft created the biggest buzz," Hamilton said. "We had every element of the U.S. soccer pyramid here, pro coaches, club coaches, college coaches, players, the whole bit. There were people coming in and out of the draft room, it was standing room from start to finish, people booing, people cheering. It was a real draft." And the Galaxy contingent came away wearing cat-that-ate-the-canary smiles.
How do you improve on a championship-winning team? Here's how:
First, sign South Korean defender Hong Myung-Bo, 33, a veteran of four World Cups and a player of immense experience, calm demeanor and, with any luck, crowd-pulling charisma.
Before the draft begins, trade No. 2 goalkeeper Matt Reis to the New England Revolution in exchange for the 19th overall pick and the rights to Alex Pineda Chacon, a 33-year-old Honduran midfielder who as recently as 2001 was the league's leading goal scorer and most valuable player.
"We wanted a situation that would benefit our club and would also give Matt the opportunity to compete for a starting spot," Schmid said. "I think he has that now."
Former University of Connecticut goalkeeper Bryheem Hancock, drafted in the second round by the Galaxy in 2002 and now playing for Atlanta in the A-League, will likely become starter Kevin Hartman's new backup.
Use your first pick in the first round, the eighth overall, to acquire a kid from Paramount who turned 17 only a couple of weeks ago, a kid who already plays for the U.S. under-17 national team, a kid named Guillermo "Memo" Gonzalez.
"I've seen Guillermo play since he was 12 years old," Schmid said. "I've known him for a long time. There's always something special and unique about left-footed players; there's a little flair that they have to their game that's different.
"He's a player who can make plays in a game. He has a tremendous shot. He scored a great goal in the combine on a free kick. He's deadly on free kicks. He might already be our best player on free kicks.
"He's a player who still has a tremendous amount of room to grow. His vision is very, very good. His technical ability is excellent for a kid his age. He brought a ball down at the combine [that caused] people to look at each other and say, 'How did he trap that ball?' That's what he has.
"He plays in a very casual manner, but he has such great ability and such great skills [that] he's the kind of player the Galaxy will be able to build around in the future."
Trade the 10th overall pick to the Dallas Burn for the 12th and 55th overall picks, then trade the just-acquired 12th pick to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars for a first-round pick in 2004.
Trade forward Brian Mullan to the San Jose Earthquakes for the 16th overall pick and use that selection to draft UCLA defender Scot Thompson, 21, of Rancho Santa Margarita. "It was hard to give Brian Mullan away, but what people have to remember is that we have Carlos Ruiz, Chris Albright, Gavin Glinton and Alejandro Moreno, and they're all 23 years old," Schmid said. "We have a lot of young forwards, so we decided to make that move.