ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- The Galaxy's trek this week to Costa Rica, for Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League clash with Alajuelense, has brought back memories of their last trip to the country, and they're not happy ones.
It was 5½ years ago, and the Galaxy watched a two-goal halftime lead disappear in the second leg of a Champions' Cup series against Saprissa -- Alajuelense's archrival -- then lost in overtime after a phantom foul gave the Costa Ricans a free kick near the corner flag.
That wasn't what hurt.
“I remember starting really well, being up two goals, and then I remember us giving up a few bad goals and then losing eventually, 3-2,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said Tuesday. “But mostly what I remember was that that was the trip when Doug Hamilton passed away.”
Hamilton, just 43, was the Galaxy's esteemed general manager. He suffered a fatal heart attack flying home from the game as the team headed to Tamarindo, on Costa Rica's west coast, for four planned days of rest and relaxation.
The excursion was head coach Steve Sampson's idea. He had been Costa Rica's national team boss a couple of years earlier and knew that his players, preparing to defend their 2005 MLS Cup championship, would love the chance to see one of the world's most beautiful spots.
“It was interesting ...,” Donovan said. “We went out, got there, and it was this incredible resort, beautiful sprawling beaches, and everybody was so happy. Then we got that call that Doug had passed away. ... That day was a roller-coaster, because we had lost the night before, a long bus ride all day, and then we got to this place, and it was actually just so peaceful and tranquil, and everyone was on the beach all day, and then I remember us just coming down for dinner, they pulled us all in and told us what happened.
“We ended up staying down and kind of just talking about Doug all night. Sitting around a campfire, hanging out, and we were on our way [home] the next morning.”
Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant, who missed that trip with a torn quad muscle, remembers it vividly.
“Obviously, everything changed after that,” he said. “If you look at what happened with our team, I think we started off [league play] with one win in maybe our first 10 games. [Actually, L.A. started 2-8-1.] It took a huge toll on us, really hit us hard and really took a long time for this organization to recover. Doug was such an integral part of the Galaxy and had built it up to such a powerhouse, and beyond that, he was such a good guy and friends to a lot of us beyond just the working side of it.
“It was just emotionally devastating. The funeral [a few days later] at Home Depot Center was very emotional.”