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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Frankie Hejduk and Jimmy Conrad are glad to be home

Former area standouts bring years of professional experience to the Galaxy and Chivas USA, respectively.

January 29, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer

A few words plucked from the opening pages of the Chivas USA and Galaxy notebooks now that the 2011 Major League Soccer season is only six weeks away …

Frankie Hejduk is back in town, and so is Jimmy Conrad.

The former UCLA players have wandered home, and if Carson isn't exactly Westwood, it suits Hejduk and Conrad just fine.

It was in 1994 that shaggy-haired surfer-turned-soccer player Hejduk, 36, left UCLA to follow a zigzag path to the top. Conrad, who turns 34 in two weeks, followed suit in 1997.

Their careers have been markedly different and markedly similar. Both had brief, unspectacular stints in Europe, Hejduk with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and St. Gallen in Switzerland and Conrad with Lech Poznan in Poland.

Both played as defenders for the U.S. national team, Hejduk 82 times and Conrad 28 times, and both played in the World Cup, Hejduk in 1998 and 2002, Conrad in 2006.

Both made their MLS mark in the Midwest, Hejduk captaining and playing 157 games for the Columbus Crew and Conrad captaining and playing 216 games for the Kansas City Wizards.

Now the two Californians — Hejduk is from La Mesa and Conrad is from Temple City — are home, picked up in the MLS re-entry draft by the Galaxy and Chivas USA, respectively.

"Frankie's a good player," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said. "I don't know how old he is, but if he's not our fittest player, he's one of our fittest. He has a lot of experience. He can play anywhere in the back as well as in midfield.

"We want to be eight deep [on defense] and with the addition of Frankie that certainly helps us."

Hejduk, meanwhile, is still Hejduk.

"I have a big smile on my face," he said. "The sun is shining and the weather is sweet. For me, it's an ideal situation. It's good to come back. To end my career where it started, getting back to the roots and everything, is really cool."

Captain, my captain

When the time comes for Chivas USA Coach Robin Fraser to select a team captain, look for Conrad to be at the top of a very short list.

"I think Conrad is a fantastic person, a wonderful leader and a very positive influence on any group of players, much less a young group that is in the process of learning how to train," said Fraser, who last week signaled his serious intent by cutting on-trial veteran Mexican defender Joaquin Beltran.

And Conrad on returning to Los Angeles:

"It's great, it's exciting," he said. "I have a lot of respect for Robin and what he's about. He's somebody I looked up to as a player before I was even in the league. I sort of modeled my game after him, so for him to now be my coach is pretty neat."

Hejduk won an MLS title with Columbus in 2008 and Conrad won one with San Jose in 2001, when the Galaxy's Landon Donovan was a teammate.

"I think one of the things that I provide is experience and just putting out fires before they start," he said. "My first year in the league, I played with [Scottish international] Richard Gough and that's one of the things he taught me."

Crowded midfield

If he wants, Arena could make a little bit of soccer history this season by unveiling an unheard-of formation.

How about the 1-9-1?

Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, now happily clutching his green card as a U.S. resident, would be in the nets and Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel, now happily clutching his hefty new contract, would be the lone striker up front.

In between would be the nine midfielders who are fighting to get on the field: Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Chris Birchall, Miguel Lopez, Paolo Cardozo, Jovan Kirovski, Michael Stephens and Bryan Jordan.

Unsigned draft picks Hector Jimenez, Dustin McCarty and Dan Keat are also midfielders.

Needless to say, something's got to give.

Open mouth, insert goal

"In Ecuador, I was one of the top scorers every year," Chivas USA first-round draft pick Victor Estupinan, 22, told Tiro Libre, the league's Spanish-language website, while predicting that he would score "25 to 30 goals" in 2011.

Considering that in 14 years no one has beaten Roy Lassiter's MLS record of 27 goals in a season, set in 1996, a bit more caution might have served Estupinan well.

"What can you say about the bravado of youth, right?" Fraser said. "I'm sure Victor has a lot of learning to do. He's young, he's brash, he's an exciting player, he has a lot of really good qualities, and it will be a learning process for him. … But I think he's got some special abilities and should be all right."

If Estupinan scores 25 goals, Chivas should be all right too.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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