By OMAR SHAMOUT
It’s hard for any rookie to find their role on a new team, but joining the back-to-back MLS Cup champions is an even tougher hurdle. Luckily for the LA Galaxy’s three MLS SuperDraft selections, key personnel changes have opened the door for them to claim a spot in head coach Bruce Arena’s squad as full preseason training begins Monday.
6-foot forward Charlie Rugg was selected 19th overall in the first round out of Boston College and is expected to compete for playing time up front and out wide after the departures of Edson Buddle and Christian Wilhelmmson. Rugg scored 28 goals in his Boston College career and was named to the All-ACC First Team in 2012, though knee injuries curtailed his senior season.
Depending on Arena’s positional preferences, he’ll vie for game time against three of the team’s Homegrown players: Jose Villareal, Jack McBean and recent signing Gyasi Zardes. Under the MLS Homegrown Player rule, clubs may sign players who have trained through their Youth Development program without subjecting them to the SuperDraft.
Rugg was nursing a minor groin injury in the training room after camp on Friday, but he said it’s not serious. The 22-year-old wasn’t initially invited to the MLS Combine earlier this month, which he said was a big wake up call that taught him the importance of a consistent work ethic.
“It was a pretty big blow to my confidence,” Rugg said. “It taught me that I haven’t had to work that hard trough my career. My physical abilities have given me a lot of help along the way.”
Rugg said Arena might prefer to play him out wide, which is where he feels most confident right now.
“In college I learned to play as a target forward,” Rugg said. “But I’m more comfortable outside. “
Rugg admitted he’s not the most technically gifted player and has relied heavily on his strength and speed up to this point in his career.
“I’m not going to do 10 scissors and dazzle you with a bunch of moves, but I’m effective.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound target man said he’s eager to work on his passing, touch, and of course, finishing, while learning from veteran stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
“As a young forward you can’t ask for anything more.”
Kofi Opare, 22, is the newest central defender on the roster, selected 24th in the second round of the SuperDraft. Arena announced the same day that Brazilian David Junior Lopes won’t be returning to the squad.
Opare stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds. He started 71 of his 76 games during four seasons as a Michigan Wolverine and tallied six goals and two assists in that span.
The energetic center back said he enjoys using his “attacking heading ability” on set pieces, which is where he got most of his goals at Michigan.
“I want to say 75 percent, maybe 80 percent were off corner kicks and with my head,” Opare said. “I do like to go up for corner kicks, set pieces and try to nick myself a goal … or two,” he laughed.
The Galaxy’s pedigree in turning young defenders into top-notch MLS talent early in their careers should be a huge boost to Opare’s confidence.
“It speaks volumes of the coaching staff here,” Opare said. “Being able to develop defenders – Tommy, Omar, A.J. It definitely gives me hope.”
Though he’s not afraid to use his head in attack, the lean, sinewy defender said he usually tries to influence the game from the back rather than getting forward.
“I like to direct things from the back,” Opare said. “I like to communicate. Some people have referred to me as a cerebral defender where I try to solve problems before they occur.”
The avid Newcastle United fan certainly has the physical attributes to succeed in the league, but knows he’ll need to improve his left foot and distribution to mesh with the Galaxy’s style of play.
“[I’m] trying to get as confident with my left foot as I am with my right foot,” he said. “Also, I’d like to improve on my long-ball abilities, switching point of attack, hitting both diagonal balls to split teams up – especially with the pace we have out wide and up top.”
Midfielder/defender Greg Cochrane was selected 38th overall in the SuperDraft and is a versatile addition to the squad. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound ex-Louisville player will probably battle the Galaxy’s other new Homegrown player, Oscar Sorto, for playing time behind A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant at left back. But it remains to be seen whether Arena intends to use his crossing ability in midfield, which is where he finished his career as a Cardinal.
Cochrane said he’s ready to play in either spot but considers himself a defender first.
“I’m more comfortable on the wing,” Cochrane said. “But if I have to play left mid I’ll play left mid.”
The slight-of-frame Cochrane said his quickness and endurance are his primary attributes and allow him to play both sides of the ball from either position.
“The big thing I pride myself on is my fitness,” Cochrane said. “When I’m on the outside I can run all day, so mentally it wears on the other team if they know I’m going to keep running. That allows me to get behind them, but still recover on defense.”
Cochrane started all 23 games for Louisville last season and finished the year with two assists.