Steven Gerrard brought a touch of Liverpool weather - cool, overcast and even some drizzle - to his first practice with the LA Galaxy on Tuesday morning.
Steven Gerrard brought a touch of Liverpool weather – cool, overcast and even some drizzle – to his first practice with the LA Galaxy on Tuesday morning.
By the time the English midfielder was formally introduced by the club in the afternoon to begin his MLS career, there was nothing but California sunshine outside StubHub Center.
The change reflects the biggest move Gerrard has ever made, personally and professionally. He spent 17 years at Liverpool, scoring 120 goals in 504 appearances and leading the club to Cup glory both domestically and in Europe. Gerrard raised the FA Cup twice and the Champions League trophy once.
Now Gerrard arrives in MLS at age 35, seeking the league title that eluded him in the Premiership.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Gerrard, who also collected 21 goals in 114 appearances for England. “The game on Saturday can’t come quick enough. We’ve got a fantastic team here, a fantastic setup, and if I can just add a little bit to that and contribute to the best of my ability, I think the future can be really bright.”
All signs so far point to a smooth transition, with Galaxy manager Bruce Arena indicating that Gerrard will play the first half in an International Champions Cup match against Mexico’s Club América on Saturday.
“He’s fitting in very, very well,” said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, who played with Gerrard at Liverpool during the 2008-09 season. “He’s a good lad off and on the field. He’s settled in fairly quickly. He has been good in training, was very good today.”
Midfielder Sebastian Lletget was impressed that Gerrard already knew his new teammates’ names the first day he arrived.
“That just sets the example for everyone, just like no one is bigger than the club,” Lletget said.
The first ball Gerrard kicked in practice was to Keane, and they showed a promising connection throughout the hour-long session. Keane was effusive in his praise for Gerrard’s service, and Arena expects that skill to come through in set pieces.
“His passing is incredible,” Keane said. “Certainly for a striker, he’s good to play with. He finds you in them little pockets (of space) certainly where I play and balls over the top. His range of passing is incredible. His will to win as well, competitive side of him that he has, is certainly going to help this team, so we’re all looking forward to him putting on that Galaxy jersey.”
Gerrard is unlikely to have the same impact off the field that the 2007 signing of David Beckham had for the Galaxy and MLS. Beckham’s aura of celebrity brought in casual fans at a time when soccer was still struggling to gain a foothold on the American sports landscape.
But the success of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams and increased television exposure for the World Cup, Champions League, EPL and MLS has created an audience hungry for the sport.
The Women’s World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game in the history of American television, and a crowd of 10,000 gathered to celebrate the champions in downtown Los Angeles, a short drive away from Gerrard’s introduction.
For Galaxy President Chris Klein, putting together a winning team that can capture the knowledgeable American fan base is now the club’s focus, rather than signing players solely to make a big splash.
“The signing of David Beckham forever changed our league,” Klein said. “But we now know the results on the field have to take first priority. Look at David’s last couple years here and the success we had as a club, and that’s what makes a signing like that successful. Our fans have told us they want to win first. Steven certainly helps to do that.”
While Beckham, Keane and other big names have been dynamic players in MLS, the league still carries an international stigma as a last stop before retirement.
Gerrard was quick to refute that notion, even with the pleasant California weather outside.
“If there is anybody who thinks I’m coming for a holiday and a last paycheck, they’ll be proved wrong very soon,” Gerrard said.
Still, Gerrard couldn’t ignore the sunshine entirely: He had to borrow sunscreen from Keane before practice.