Los Angeles Soccer: Miguel Aceval
“Happiest couple days of my career so far,” he beamed when the session was over. “You know, I couldn't be happier -- being back home, playing in front of family and friends, and, of course, playing for the defending champs, a great organization. I couldn't be happier.”
The former UCLA All-American from Palos Verdes Estates arrives after two years with the Philadelphia Union, where he started 22 of his 36 Major League Soccer appearances but struggled to find a regular role in Peter Nowak's system. He had heard word of talks between the clubs before, “but nothing materialized, and then the last couple days things kind of came together.”
The deal, with the Galaxy also picking up a 2013 second-round draft pick and surrendering an international slot for this season, was finalized Wednesday afternoon Philly time, “and I was on a plane back here already,” Nakazawa said. “I was happy for what happened in Philadelphia. It was a good two years. But like I say, I couldn't be happier to be back home playing here.”
The 23-year-old midfielder, who played for the Irvine Strikers and at Peninsula High School before joining the U.S. under-17 national team's Florida residency in advance of the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Cup, adds to L.A.'s deepening midfield. He provides head coach Bruce Arena another option -- to go with former Bruins teammate Michael Stephens and three second-year players, playmaker Paolo Cardozo, organizer Dan Keat and winger Hector Jimenez -- behind the anticipated first-choice quartet: Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas and Mike Magee.
“I think he's a very good two-way player,” Arena said. “He plays simple. He's a very good competitor. In the college level he could score goals; at the professional level we saw that he was a very good player on set pieces, serving balls, hitting free kicks. He's got some qualities that we can use on our team.”
Nakazawa likely won't get the chance in too many dead-ball situations -- David Beckham is the Galaxy's primary set-piece taker, and Landon Donovan is No. 2 -- but his versatility will come in handy as Arena rotates his lineup among at least 41 competitive matches. Nakazawa is a central midfielder by trade but can play on the flanks, too, especially with the Galaxy, which doesn't use its wide midfielders as out-and-out wingers.
“I'm just looking to help this team in any form I'm asked upon,” Nakazawa said. “Any position on the field that Bruce and the coaching staff wants me to step up and play, I'm willing to do, and just work as hard as I can and help the team get another championship.”
He describes himself as a “linking player” who is “trying to grow myself more into a box-to-box midfielder” and realizes adding goals to his résumé is part of his evolution “to become a complete professional.” He scored 20 at UCLA, but has just one (and three assists) in MLS play. He started 14 games last year as the second-year Union qualified for the postseason, but Nowak has turned over his roster during the offseason. Nakazawa was the 13th departure.
“I don't know what's going on, but I know there's a lot of changes, and, you know, I was one of those players going out,” he said. “But I think the situation worked out well for me.”