MLS CONFIDENTIAL: Exploring the Galaxy and Sampson's future

By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America Magazine

OPEN QUESTION: In the aftermath of the Galaxy's 2-1 win over the Wizards Sunday night came all manner of pronouncements that both upcoming games against FC Dallas at Home Depot Center are vitally important.

On Wednesday, the Galaxy and FC Dallas play in the U.S. Open Cup final (live on Gol TV, 11 pm ET/8 pm PT). On Saturday is a crucial league meeting of the two teams vying for second place in the Western Conference.

Coach Steve Sampson's job is tenuous, regardless of either result. For all the importance placed on the Open Cup final by Sampson and his players, nothing has come forth from AEG about that trophy being enough to keep him in the fold.

An MLS source says talks between AEG and former Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop, currently Canada's national team coach, have yet to reach fruition but are moving in that direction.

Prior to the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, Metros' GM Alexi Lalas initially approached Yallop about coaching the Metros but didn't succeed in enticing him east.

CROWD COUNT: The tradition and prestige of the country's oldest soccer competition doesn't register with AEG president Tim Leiweke, unless general manager Doug Hamilton can somehow put 20,000 into Home Depot Center. And this Open Cup final on Wednesday will give observers an interesting opportunity to compare crowds: the announced figure of 22,552 for the Wizards game Sunday night seemed to double those actually in attendance.

MLS allows teams to include all tickets distributed in its crowd figures. That includes tickets sold as part of sponsorships as well as complimentary tickets. Since the league keeps mum on all revenue figures, how well a team is doing financially isn't necessarily revealed by attendance figures.

The Galaxy won the 2001 Open Cup title as host, drawing 4,195 fans at Cal State Fullerton and beating New England, 2-1, with an overtime goal by Danny Califf.

When Home Depot Center opened in 2003, the Galaxy set league records for local sponsorships sold, although another source says those records were broken when CD Chivas USA set up shop this season.

A league source says despite the large blocks of empty seats at some Galaxy games, the team is doing very well with paid tickets.

"You can tell by where the empty seats are," says the source. "Those seats at midfield have been sold, people just aren't showing up. Doug is doing a good job."

And that is why Hamilton will probably keep his job even if Sampson loses his.

STICKING UP FOR STEVE: One player convinced that Sampson is getting the short end of the stick is forward Herculez Gomez, invited back into the fold after the Galaxy released him at the end of the 2003 season.

Gomez's nine league goals are second to Galaxy leader Landon Donovan (11).   Gomes has also scored five goals in the Open Cup.

"My philosophy is you can't blame the coach when things are going wrong with the team," says Gomez, who impressed Sampson during preseason trips to Hawaii and Spain and by scoring goals in reserve games as well as in the Open Cup.

"He's the first person to blame, but he doesn't play the games. The fans have every right to feel how they feel, but I think he's gotten a bad rap. There's not one person who doesn't have the same thing in mind and that's MLS Cup. Hopefully he'll get us there."

Rightly or wrongly, to keep his job he probably has to.

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