Work in Sports
One trophy short
L.A. wins individual awards, seeks ultimate team reward
Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 11:52 AM
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
BOSTON, Mass. -- The Los Angeles Galaxy took home many of Major League Soccerís individual awards announced this week, but thereís one trophy left that overshadows the rest.
"You donít play this game for any other reason than to win a championship," said Galaxy captain and MLS defender of the year Robin Fraser. "Individual accolades are nice to have, but the real joy of any sport is winning."
Fraser will lead the Galaxy in search of its first MLS Cup win on Sunday against D.C. United, the leagueís most potent offense with 65 goals in the regular season.
Six of the 11 players named to the all-league team Saturday will be on display Sunday. The three L.A. players honored were playmaking midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos, Fraser and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
Earlier this week, Hartman was honored as goalkeeper of the year, and former UCLA coach Sigi Schmid was named coach of the year in his first year in the pro ranks.
"The coach of the year is the one who wins the MLS Cup tomorrow, and thatís the goal of our team," Schmid said after Saturdayís light workout at Foxboro Stadium. "Itís a great honor because it reflects the hard work the team did this year and the staff and my assistant coaches and everybody else, but itís never a goal that I set."
After coaching at UCLA for 19 years, Schmid joined the 3-3 Galaxy in April of this year after Octavio Zambrano was let go. Under Schmid, the team went 17-9, captured its third Western Conference regular season title in four years and set a record with the leagueís all-time best defense.
Fraser gave credit for his individual award to Schmidís renewed emphasis on defense, as the team gave up just 29 goals in 32 games.
"It really is a reflection of our whole team and the way everyone has embraced the defensive philosophy," he said. "Definitely, Iím thrilled about it, but I feel like itís something our whole team gets credit for."
"The thing that Robin gives us is he always looks very composed," said Schmid. "Heís a guy that doesnít ever give you the feeling that heís panicking, and I think thatís important for others."
Also anchoring the defense are rejuvenated veteran Paul Caligiuri in the middle with Fraser, Greg Vanney on the left and Ezra Hendrickson lending an attacking presence on the right side. Hard-nosed Danny Pena patrols defensive midfield.
"Itís smarter," Fraser said of the Galaxyís defensive system. "Weíve become more organized since Sigiís come about."
Schmid said he places an emphasis on team defense. He showed his players a videotape on Saturday of a goal L.A. scored in the playoffs against Dallas that resulted from pressure applied in the Galaxyís offensive third of the field.
The last line in that team defense is Hartman, 25, who played for Schmid at UCLA and has blossomed into an award-winning keeper since the departure of Mexican star Jorge Campos. Hartman recorded a .91 goals-against average after playing all but 10 minutes this year for the Galaxy.
"Iím happy about it, but the number one thing is winning a championship," said the free-spirited Hartman, who has appeared between the pipes with a wide variety of hair colors. "Itís something weíve been working for for nine months."
"Hartman had a great season. He played very, very well. I think his reactions, his ability to block shots is extarordinay," said Schmid. "His courage is something you can never question."
"It takes a lot for me to get nervous," said Hartman.
He will need all the courage he can muster Sunday against D.C., with midfielder Marco Etcheverry pulling the strings for forwards Jaime Moreno and Roy Lassiter
"You donít shut down Etcheverry; you contain him," said Schmid. "What we want to do is maybe make Marco work a little harder to get the ball. I donít think Columbus in the last game made him work very hard to see the ball."
Schmid said his team will play a zone-matchup system. Pena will be responsible for Etcheverry while heís in the middle of the field, Schmid said, but wonít pulled out of position if Etcheverry wanders.
Schmid said he will stick with the same starting lineup he has used throughout the playoffs.
"Whether somebody plays zone or man-to-man," he said. "Eventually it always comes down to one-on-one confrontations."
Hartman looks abroad
Despite the individual accolades this year, Hartman said Saturday, "I donít think Iím where I want to be."
And where is that?
"I think itís any goalkeeperís dream to be a starter for the national team. You want to retire after youíre finished playing soccer, so Iíve got about 10 or 15 more years before Iím going to be ready to retire," he said.
"I want to see what else is out there in the world, check and see what other options I have after my contract is up at the end of the year."
"[MLS has] offered to renew my contract for the past three years," Hartman said. "I donít know what I want to do. I just want to have all of the options and see which one is financially beneficial to me and which one puts me where I want to be. I want to continue to start and get the games I need to continue to mature.
"South of the border, now that I live in California, is pretty convenient getting home," said Hartman, who added that he grew up watching European soccer on television. "All of those kind of places are very, very interesting to me."
"Obviously, I would love to stay in L.A. if they can work it out with the league," he added. "I think the league now is trying to keep their younger players and not have them leave."
For the moment, however, Hartman said heís focused on winning a championship for the Galaxy, which was beaten in the 1996 title game at Foxboro by United.
"We havenít had a championship in L.A. since 1998 [in any professional sport]," he said, "so we would really relish that opportunity."