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Monday, February 20, 2012
GALAXY: Birchall looks for a home

By Scott French

Midfielder Chris Birchall is still searching for a home after the Galaxy effectively cut ties with him two weeks ago, and it's not coming easy.

The humble Englishman is training with his former club Port Vale and set to sign a month-to-month contract as he looks for a bigger and better opportunity, but part of him would like to be in L.A.

Birchall, 27, told Stoke-on-Trent-based daily The Sentinel that his 2012 option with the Galaxy, including a pay raise, would have kicked in had he made 20 league starts. He made 18, one in a playoff game, plus single starts in the CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup. It wasn't good enough.

“The option was taken out of my hands, and it was then up to Galaxy to make me an offer,” Birchall told the newspaper. “I knew they weren't going to offer me an increased wage, but I didn't expect to be offered less money than what I was already earning.

“There are no hard feelings because we ended up winning everything last season, plus I have a good relationship with the management and coaching staff. The manager knew my intention to come back to England even if I had been offered the better option because I wanted to see what my options are.”

Birchall made $144,000 in base salary last year, but the Galaxy -- needing to clear cap space to make the kind of moves they've been making since winning the MLS Cup title -- declined the option on his contract. Talks continued into January, but Birchall wanted to see what his options were at home, and by the end of the month, the Galaxy's roster was virtually finished.

Birchall announced via Twitter two weeks ago that it was certain he would not return to L.A. That's not entirely a bad thing. His greatest difficulty in L.A. was visa issues that prevented his fiancee, Lucy, and their son, Ashley, from spending more than 90 days with him at a time.

“The fact Lucy and Ashley could only spend 90 days with me at a time was the main problem,” Birchall said. “It was becoming such a hassle for her to keep flying our son out to America, and it was expensive. One of the highlights of living in L.A. was the lifestyle, although the big drawback was spending time away from my family.”

Port Vale, based in Stoke-on-Trent, in the West Midlands, plays in League Two, the fourth tier of English soccer. He'd like to find a deal with a team in the second-tier Championship but thinks his Major League Soccer experience might be a minus.

“When you have played in the MLS, you get more respect from players than you do from managers,” Birchall said. “Some managers still think there's that stigma of playing in the MLS and only certain players can play at a higher level. But when I've trained with Oldham and Vale, some of the players said they envied me for playing in L.A. From a manager's point of view, though, they don't see the standard as being so high.”