The 2008 Galaxy team were changing the landscape of U.S. football. It was David Beckham’s first full season, the squad was full of international stars, and the club had just appointed Dutch legend Ruud Gullit as head coach.The PR team were working full time to help promote the Galaxy worldwide, and it worked. People, especially over here in England, were starting to take notice of the league, many buying replica Beckham jerseys.
What else could you do to help promote yourself to the world? Announce your participation in an inaugural world club tournament, which was to be covered by news agencies from all over the globe. So that’s what they did.
In December 2007, fresh from their tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Galaxy announced their participation in the first ever Pan-Pacific Championship. It was to be held in the Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, during February the following year. It was to include football camps for the locals to attend, making the most of the media exposure that Beckham was bringing.
On the 18th February, the Galaxy squad arrived in Hawaii. Ex Galaxy player, Bryan Jordan, was kind enough to answer some questions about his time in the tournament. When I asked him about the welcome that they received, he said “As far as I can remember the locals welcomed us well. Everyone and their brother wanted pictures with Becks.”
Gullit and Beckham went straight from the plane to a press conference, followed by the team’s first training at the Waipio Soccer Complex. The next two days included one more training session and a football camp at Waianae High School, before their first game of the tournament, against Gamba Osaka.
Long time Galaxy fan, Lee Bennett, made the trip over to Hawaii to support the team. “It seemed like a good excuse for a vacation,” Lee said. “I had a friend working at the time on the Big Island, on one of the telescopes on Mauna Kea, so I went over there as well. I ended up staying at the same hotel as the Galaxy and Gamba Osaka.” I went on to ask him about the support for the Galaxy in the tournament. “I don’t think a lot of people came over,” he said. “There were some but not thousands. The stadium wasn’t that big and it was only about a half to two thirds full. There was a lot of support for the Galaxy though, but that was mostly because of Beckham. There was just as much support for Houston. I remember people wearing Houston gear walking around. Brian Ching was a local boy.”
When I asked him about the first game, Lee said, “I remember sitting behind some locals, who were just soccer fans, and one lady was from Holland and recognised Gullit. She was excited about that.”
Gamba Osaka, the eventual tournament winners, won the first game 1-0, forcing the Galaxy to play for third place, which was to be held three days later. In the meantime, they played a training match against Houston Dynamo, which they won 4-0, and a few of the players received a private tour of Pearl Harbour.
Back at the Aloha Stadium, LA Galaxy beat Sydney FC 2-1, with goals from Ely Allen and Josh Tudela, in their final game of the tournament.
Before they returned to LA, they enjoyed their last day in Honolulu, with some recovery time on the beach. “I feel like the galaxy has always had the mentality of ‘We’re all adults and we know what we need to do, and that’s win,’” said Bryan, when I asked him about getting time to enjoy themselves. “So u can go out wherever, as long as it’s reasonable and get your business done, at the end of the day.”
I asked Bryan if their time in Hawaii had helped the team develop a bond, “I would say that it did,” he said, “This was back when the rosters were huge. I think more than 45 players were in camp, and we had a rookie class of about 14 guys. So just like every team there were some cliques, but the Galaxy has always been pretty family oriented.”
For many of the Galaxy players, the opportunity to play in the tournament was something they had never experienced before. The rookies had gone from college or smaller clubs to a new world of international cups and footballing superstars, having the cameras following them everywhere.
“The experience was amazing.” said Bryan Jordan. “It was the longest trip I think the Galaxy had been on in some time. Three weeks in Asia and then one week in Hawaii, all of this for preseason. And it was David Beckham’s first full year at the club. We had other big European names, like Abel Xavier and Babayaro. The Paparazzi was taking picture everywhere we went, and it was pretty crazy after just coming from Portland the previous year. I had never been out of the country before that so I have tons of great memories from that trip.”