CARSON, Calif. (AP) – Giovani dos Santos is the next star in the LA Galaxy.
The defending MLS Cup champions signed the versatile Mexican scorer Wednesday, bolstering their already powerful lineup with another international talent.
The 26-year-old dos Santos spent the last two seasons with Spain’s Villarreal, scoring 12 goals in 58 La Liga appearances. He has played professionally in Europe since his childhood, but dos Santos also has played for Mexico in two World Cups during eight years with El Tri.
”Giovani is a special player,” said Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach and general manager. ”He has experience and success competing at the highest level, and we believe he will only continue to develop.”
After four years of courting dos Santos, the Galaxy finally signed the highest-profile Mexican star in their history to a designated player contract, paying a reported $7 million transfer fee.
Along with dos Santos’ playmaking skills, the MLS power hopes he’ll attract new fans for the Galaxy among Southern California’s large Latino population and in Mexico.
”He’s a player that the world has known, and he’s a player that we’ve known about for some time,” said Galaxy President Chris Klein, who has been pursuing dos Santos since 2011. ”It’s the right time for the Galaxy, and it’s the right time for Giovani to come and put on a Galaxy shirt, and we’re very excited about what the potential is.”
Dos Santos’ legal representative has said the Galaxy contract runs through the 2019 season. The club didn’t disclose terms.
One season after Landon Donovan’s retirement and 2 1/2 years after David Beckham’s departure, the Galaxy have reloaded the midfield of MLS’ glamour franchise. They added English midfielder Steven Gerrard to their lineup last week, but dos Santos – likely still in his prime – could slot perfectly into the playmaking role vacated by Donovan last winter.
”Giovani coming in at the time of his career where he’s just entering his prime is a really important statement for the Galaxy, and a really important statement for MLS,” Klein said.
Dos Santos will join the Galaxy in August after the Gold Cup, possibly making his debut at home against first-place Seattle on Aug. 9. He is another scoring threat on a roster already boasting league MVP Robbie Keane, U.S. national team forward Gyasi Zardes and Gerrard.
The deal is a reunion for Keane and dos Santos, who were teammates with Tottenham Hotspur.
”He’s very, very skillful, quick (and) sharp,” Keane told reporters after the Galaxy’s training session Wednesday. ”He can score goals. He can set up people. He’s basically got it all, to be honest with you. That’s why I’m delighted that he’s come. I think he’s going to be a superstar in this league, there’s no question about it. He has the right mentality. He has the flair.”
The Galaxy already had the MLS-maximum three designated players on their roster in Gerrard, Keane and U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, but the league changed its salary cap rules last week. The free-spending Galaxy subsequently lowered the budget charge on Gonzalez to clear a spot for another designated player who can be paid above the league’s salary strictures.
Dos Santos, a Monterrey native, began his pro career in Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and debuted with the senior team in 2006. He moved to Tottenham in 2008 and subsequently went on loan several times, never finding a consistent home in Europe.
But dos Santos has been a steady contributor for Mexico during 89 appearances with the national team, and he could prosper in Southern California as part of a lineup that should challenge for both MLS titles and CONCACAF Champions League trophies.
”Our goal is to be the best club in North America, and continuing to invest in top players is part of that objective,” said Dan Beckerman, the president and CEO of Galaxy parent company AEG. ”Giovani fits the category of someone who will help the Galaxy continue to be the most successful club in Major League Soccer. We are excited to add a world-class talent to an already championship-caliber team.”
The Galaxy also were eager to sign a Mexican star to cement their reputation among local Latino fans before LAFC, the deep-pocketed MLS expansion club, joins the league in its downtown Los Angeles stadium, likely in 2018.
Chivas USA’s collapse was the most visible example of MLS’ struggle to win the attention of Latino fans, who often continue to root for their favorite Mexican team instead of embracing the U.S. league. Dos Santos is the biggest Mexican star to join MLS since Rafa Marquez signed with the New York Red Bulls in 2010.
Dos Santos’ Brazilian father, Geraldo Francisco ”Zizinho” dos Santos, played for the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Los Angeles Lazers in 1986 and 1987, shortly before Giovani was born.