LOS ANGELES — During this weekend’s LA Galaxy match at StubHub Center, the team will celebrate its storied history with a “throwback’ themed night. The Galaxy will host the New York Red Bulls, alluding to the LA side’s first-ever match April 13, 1996. The Galaxy hosted and defeated the then New York/New Jersey Metrostars that day, with a 2-1 scoreline at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The timing of “throwback” night is paramount, scheduled the day before new cross-town rival Los Angeles FC will play its first home match. Commemorating two decades of success and trophies while the new, shiny team down the road is just starting out is a friendly way of reminding LAFC how high the bar has been set.
Success didn’t come easy for the LA Galaxy, though. They failed at their first three attempts to win the MLS Cup in 1996, 1999 and 2001. Everything finally aligned in 2002 and the team took home it’s first MLS Cup title, a fond memory that sticks with the players who lived it.
“To be a part of the first-ever team to win MLS cup,” former LA Galaxy defender Alexi Lalas turned Fox Sports analyst told Pro Soccer USA when asked his favorite Galaxy memory. “Now, something that is so often associated with the Galaxy is success. There’s only one first time. That meant a tremendous amount because, at the time that it happened, this was a team that had certainly been there, but hadn’t been able to ultimately win it. With the right mix of player and coaches and that magic moment, that is something that will stay with me forever, Something I am immensely proud of from a playing standpoint.”
Struggles and eventual success weren’t limited only to the LA Galaxy. The trend applied to Major League Soccer as a whole. The league nearly folded in 2001 and has since grown leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings.
“I saw MLS grow from 2002,” former LA Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz said. “When I came here, we used to practice outside in the parks and baseball fields, and now you can see this league is getting better and better. I am very happy to be a part of this league.”
The league grew and adapted to changes on the field, but off-field issues plagued MLS as well. There was a point in its history when some players had to take second jobs to make ends meet and some front offices were located in mobile trailers.
“As someone who started in the league in 1997 and played in it until the end of 2013, I was able to see the evolution of soccer here within the United States,” former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman said. “We worked hard with the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement]. We felt that by making the players superstars and paying them a relative wage that the business would continue to thrive and grow.”
The LA Galaxy’s role in Major League Soccer’s growth is measurable. The signing and arrival of David Beckham, the league’s first designated player, sparked rule changes and challenged other teams to bring in designated players players of their own, leading to an influx of superstar talent.
“I think the Galaxy, since the beginning of Major League Soccer, has taken an active and front-running role in doing things differently and pushing the envelope when it comes to the signing of players, the branding, certainly the infrastructure with regards to stadiums and training facilities,” Lalas said. “ I think that you can look at the Galaxy, for what they’ve done and appreciate and respect that they have played an integral part in pushing others to do more.”
As they say, the rest is history.