Sunday, January 29, 2012
CHIVAS USA: Vagenas promises his all
By Scott French
Peter Vagenas, a long-time Galaxy player, now must convince Chivas USA fans to embrace him.
OXNARD -- There exist Chivas USA supporters not so pleased about the club's latest, as-yet unannounced acquisition. Peter Vagenas, that acquisition, loves it.
The veteran midfielder is a bit of a Galaxy icon -- he was with the club from 2000 to 2009, winning two MLS Cups and captaining the 2005 MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup “double” winners -- and, as everyone familiar with the Super Clasico rivalry can attest, that doesn't go over so well with those who cheer on the Rojiblancos.
Vagenas, 33, understands where they're coming from, sees it as a good thing -- a product of the growing passion Major League Soccer fans feel for their teams (and the hatred they hold for their archrivals), says “that's how it should be.” He wrestled with all of it while considering Chivas coach Robin Fraser's invitation.
“It wasn't an easy decision,” said Vagenas, who has been in camp for about a week and a half and last week finalized his contract. “At the end of the day, for me personally, the chance to be part of what Robin is trying to build here is an absolutely fantastic opportunity. The ideas Robin has, where he sees this club going, the vision that he's trying to put on the field is something I believe in wholeheartedly.
“Obviously, Los Angeles is my home. I was born and raised here. This gives me the opportunity to come home and play in front of my family and friends at Home Depot Center. You put those two things together, this is truly, truly a blessing for me.”
Vagenas was born and grew up in Pasadena, attended St. Francis High School and starred at UCLA before joining the Galaxy, and he's not about to renounce his past. He was a pivotal figure on the fine Galaxy teams early last decade, a skilled organizer whose work ethic, ability with the ball and leadership skills contributed mightily to the club's identity.
He played in 202 league games in nine Galaxy seasons. His 183 regular-season appearances leaves him fifth on L.A.'s all-time list, one spot below Chivas assistant coach Greg Vanney and two in front of Fraser, both former teammates.
“We've known Pete ... gosh, his first year was my last year with the Galaxy. So I've known him a long time,” Fraser said before the club spent last week at Oxnard College in Ventura County. “Greg and Jim [Liston, the fitness coach] know him even better than I do. ...
“Pete's the kind of guy who has been an important part of locker rooms with very successful teams. And we keep coming back to that, looking for guys who have track record of success. And he's been very good.”
Vagenas, who played for Seattle in 2009-10 and last season in Vancouver, said he has huge “respect for Robin and Greg.”
“They're guys who sort of taught me to be a professional way back when,” he said. “Robin was captain of the Galaxy when I got there, and I always told myself if I was going to be a captain, I wanted to model myself after the way Robin did it, and I had that opportunity, obviously, to captain the Galaxy.
“Now to play for Chivas, all I can say is I'll do my very best to bring wins. The Galaxy had zero championships when I go there. Hopefully, we can add something to the cupboard here.”
Vagenas became a free agent during MLS's re-entry process last month, and Fraser contacted him soon after. He said they got together for a “30- or 45-minute talk, and I left the room buzzing.”
The only hiccup? He was Galaxy royalty.
“I didn't want to be insensitive to the issues that came with this,” he said. “The Galaxy is obviously a huge part of my past, a huge part of my career. In some way, it's the club I grew up with, the club I grew up in. In that sense, I had to make sure for me that I was doing this for the right reasons. I spoke to people important to me, and their advice was to say they were as excited as I was for the opportunity.
“Nothing can take away what I've done with the Galaxy and accomplished with that team. It's a team I still have friends on, I still have a relationship with. That being said, I'm now going to try to beat them. I'm going to be doing my best to sort of change the tide in Los Angeles.”
Now it's about convincing Chivas' hardcore fans.
“I hope people don't confuse the two,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in L.A. That club is part of me, of who I am. A lot of emotion comes from that. And the same way I carried myself with that organization, hopefully, I can be able to bring that here.”
WORTH NOTING: Winger Arturo Alvarez, whose MLS rights Chivas USA acquired from Real Salt Lake in the re-entry draft, is finalizing a two-year contract with Portuguese club Rio Ave, the website elsalvador.com reported Sunday. Alvarez, a Texas-born Salvadoran who also has played for San Jose and FC Dallas, has a medical exam scheduled Monday, according to his agent, and if all is clear, he likely will sign papers Tuesday. Alvarez spent the past month pursuing options in Europe. The Goats will retain his MLS rights. ... The first cuts from the preseason roster could be coming this week. The club is deepest in midfield, for what it's worth. Unsigned midfielders in camp are Ciaran O'Brien, Pablo Sandoval and draft pick Kevin Venegas, from Cal State Fullerton.