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Carlo Cudicini makes leap across the pond to play for the Galaxy

The former top English Premier League goaltender is ready to revive a career that has bogged down in recent years. 'I'm here because I want to win,' he says.

March 03, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Carlo Cudicini will make the move from the Tottenham Hotspurs of the Premier League to the Galaxy in MLS.
Carlo Cudicini will make the move from the Tottenham Hotspurs of the Premier… (Sang Tan / Associated Press )

Carlo Cudicini has been in Southern California less than six weeks, but he's already mastered the freeways, learned to tailgate in his rented Dodge Avenger and developed a taste for the menu at In-N-Out.

"The burger was excellent," he confesses.

The Galaxy would love to see his adjustment to life in Major League Soccer go just as smoothly. Because when the team kicks off its MLS schedule Sunday at the Home Depot Center, Cudicini will most likely be the man standing in goal, making him the third goalkeeper to start the opener in as many seasons.

The last two — Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders — wound up winning MLS titles.

"Yeah," Cudicini says with a laugh. "A lot of pressure."

But the chance to win a championship isn't the only thing that drew Cudicini to the Galaxy. The move also gives Cudicini, once the top goalkeeper in the English Premier League, an opportunity to rekindle a career that has languished as of late.

After appearing in 216 matches in nine years at Chelsea, where he won two EPL titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups, Cudicini moved four years ago to Tottenham, where he struggled for playing time before a horrific motorcycle accident nearly ended his career. And though he fought back from that, he soon found himself a fourth-choice goalkeeper at White Hart Lane.

Not exactly the triumphant ride into the sunset he had hoped for. So he followed that setting sun west to the beaches of Southern California, but anyone who thinks he came here looking for a vacation couldn't be more wrong, Cudicini warns.

"It's not about holidays. It's not about sunshine," he says. "It's about a team that won the last two championships. It's a team that has success in its DNA. It's a manager that's got success in his DNA.

"I'm here because I want to win."

He's also here because the Galaxy, which got him on a free transfer and signed him to a two-year contract, thinks he can help it do just that. But still there are questions.

Cudicini is the son of Fabio Cudicini, a famed Italian goalkeeper who helped AC Milan win the European Cup final in 1969. His best playing days came nearly a decade ago, before he was displaced in the Chelsea goal by Petr Cech and before his motorcycle accident.

Plus he'll be 40 before the season ends, making him the second-oldest player in MLS.

"Goalkeepers," says Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, who was a goalkeeper in his playing days, "can play a little bit longer based on the physical demands of the position."

Besides, Cudicini says, whatever he lacks in speed and athleticism he is confident he can make up for through experience, something the Galaxy hopes will also benefit its young backup goalkeepers, 23-year-old Brian Perk and 24-year-old Brian Rowe.

Of more concern is how quickly Cudicini can adapt to a new league and new teammates. (The new fans could be a problem too since Cudicini will wear jersey No. 23, the same one he wore in Chelsea and Tottenham but a number made famous at the Home Depot Center by the recently departed David Beckham.)

"It's like when I moved to England. I didn't know a lot about English players. So it's a problem. You need time to adapt to everything," says Cudicini, who played for five clubs in his native Italy before jumping to Chelsea and quickly perfecting his English, one of four languages he speaks.

"People think that because you play soccer, you just move from one place to another one and you're exactly the same," he continues. "Well they are wrong. Because it's not exactly the same. It's a process. You need time. Hopefully you won't need a lot of time. But it's something that you have to go through."

Cudicini got a head start on some of that before leaving England, discussing MLS, Southern California and the state of U.S. soccer with former Tottenham teammates Brad Friedel, a two-time All-American at UCLA, and Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, the two people he credits most for helping him make the move.

And now that he's here, Cudicini says he intends to make the most of the adventure.

"It is huge. But I'm actually learning fast," Cudicini says of his new hometown. "You have to be careful about traffic at peak times and stuff. But once you learn that, I think it's going to be pretty easy. You get used to everything.

"Through soccer, to actually have the chance to see so many different countries and to get to know so many different people, it's really a blessing. I consider myself very lucky to have the chance to come here."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

twitter.com/kbaxter11

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