CARSON -- Ryan Smith's disappearance was among the oddest occasions in Major League Soccer last season, and the mystery surrounding his departure for England just three months into the campaign led to understandable doubt he'd be around when Chivas USA opened its preseason camp this week.
Turns out that was never in question.
The London-born midfielder, whose rights Chivas acquired from Sporting Kansas City in a November trade, is in great spirits as he begins his tenure in Southern California, and he understands there are questions about why he left last June.
Smith, 25, who came up in his neighborhood club Arsenal's system and played for Leicester City, Derby County, Millwall, Southampton and Crystal Palace, was an immediate hit when he joined K.C. in 2007. He's a creative midfielder with uncommon qualities, and he scored three goals with seven assists that season. Injuries slowed him early last year, and then in mid-June, he was gone.
All Sporting would say: Family reasons.
“I had to leave last summer to return to look after my mum,” Smith said. “What a lot of people don't know if the reason why I left is to be close to her because she suffers from lupus, which is an [autoimmune] disease, and it's a permanent illness as well. Nobody knew that apart from the coaching staff at Kansas City, and that was the reason I was sent home.”
He went on trial at Real Zaragoza in Spain, but “nothing worked out over there for whatever reason,” Smith said. Then he “spoke to the guys here at Chivas, and they wanted to take me, and that was it. It was pretty much done as quickly as I found out.”
The Goats got him for two supplemental draft picks, and a pay raise made it all possible.
“The good thing is MLS offered me a new contract, which is a little bit more money,” said Smith, whose 2011 base salary was $140,000. “It enabled me to bring my family now. [My mum] is going to be over here. That's the whole reason [this is doable]. I'm really looking forward to it, man. It was an indifferent time when I left. No one knew the situation, but, obviously, now everybody will know.”
Smith figures to fight for playing time in a stacked midfield loaded with attacking personalities. MLS All-Star Nick LaBrocca, French winger Laurent Courtois and third-year vet Blair Gavin return, and Ecuadoran newcomers Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolaños expect to see the field. Michael Lahoud is an option at several spots.
Smith is ready for the battle -- and so happy to be here.
“The guys are nice, you know,” he said. “I kind of feel like I've been here for awhile. They've welcomed me really well, so I'm just looking forward to the new season and, hopefully, getting us to the playoffs.”
ACROSS THE COMPLEX: Backline leader Heath Pearce is missing the first week and a half of camp while with the U.S. national team, which has been training elsewhere on the Home Depot Center complex. He'll join the Goats after the Yanks' games Saturday against Venezuela in Glendale, Ariz., and next Wednesday against Panama in Panama City.
“Obviously, I'd love to be with the guys,” Pearce said this week. “I stopped by the locker room a couple times in the last few days to see some of the guys, and I got to see mostly everybody and meet some of the new faces, so I'm excited for the new year.”
There are a lot of new faces to meet.
“The coaching staff got their chance to find the players that they want and put the time in to building the team that they want so, obviously, there has been a lot of turnover,” said Pearce, who played mostly in the middle for Chivas but is primarily a left back for the national team. “They weren't satisfied, and neither were all of us as a team. It's a good chance for us to start fresh and really do something.”
WORTH NOTING: The Goats have announced they've signed former Real Salt Lake backup goalkeeper Tim Melia. ... Chivas' mystery goalkeeper in camp is Cal Poly's Patrick McLain, a three-time All-Big West second-team selection from Eau Claire, Wis. ... Melia and McLain are in the battle with MLS pool goalkeeper Kevin Guppy (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS and Cal State Northridge) and supplemental draft pick Brian Rowe (UCLA) for two jobs backing up Dan Kennedy (Yorba Linda/El Dorado HS). ... Chivas got back one of the supplemental picks they sent to K.C. for Smith in the subsequent Paulo Nagamura trade. The other K.C. used Tuesday to take Valparaiso defender Stefan Antonijevic.
ELSEWHERE: In other news around the league ...
Chicago re-signed Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo.
D.C. United signed former Chivas USA forward Maicon Santos, a Brazilian who last season played for Toronto FC and FC Dallas.
FC Dallas loaned Jackson Goncalves to Cruzeiro after the Brazilian winger asked to return home for personal reasons.
Serbian forward Veljko Paunovic, who came out of retirement to join Philadelphia last June, has re-retired.
Philadelphia forward/winger Sebastien Le Toux appears set for a transfer to Bolton, and the Union confirmed the Frenchman is in England.
New York's Thierry Henry suffered a calf injury in training Tuesday at Arsenal, according to media reports, and will undergo tests.