Frankie Hejduk can't believe his good fortune in falling through to the Galaxy over the brief offseason.
First, he's coming home -- and he'll end his career in L.A. (Not until he plays "as long as I can, as long as I'm competitive and I feel like my legs are still under me and I don't feel I'm hurting the team at all.") Second, he's reunited with Bruce Arena, with whom he prospered in one Olympics (1996) and over eight years with the U.S. national team.
Best of all: He's going to win a championship.
That's how Hejduk sees it. He's got the glow of a true believer, and it's clear -- given the genuine excitement with which he talks about his new club -- why the veterans speak of him as a valued locker-room presence.
"For me, it's an ideal situation," Hejduk, a 36-year-old defender who first emerged nearly two decades ago at UCLA as a big-hearted wing-defender who can run forever -- still a most suitable description -- said during the Galaxy's media availability Wednesday, three days (of fitness work) into the club's preseason preparations at the Home Depot Center. "To come back and get to end my career where it started. Getting back to the roots and everything is really cool, and to have an opportunity for my friends and family and everyone to get a chance to see me play is awesome.
"What I'm looking forward to with this team is, obviously, nothing less than a championship. I didn't come here to not win a championship. This club has some big-time tradition, and I want to be a part of that."
Hejduk, acquired Dec. 15 in a trade (from Sporting Kansas City) after leaving Columbus in the re-entry draft, says he's excited to play for Arena ("and [assistants] Dave [Sarachan] and Curt [Onalfo], too"), admires the new firepower ("I feel sorry for some of the other teams' back fours ... with the likes of Juan Pablo Angel and Adam Cristman and Chad Barrett") and is ready to contribute whatever is asked of him.
"Wherever I'm going to be needed, that's where I'm going to be. Whether it's a reserve role or coming off the bench or helping out wherever I can," Hejduk said. "I'm here for the team, and wherever Bruce wants to put me and wherever he figures out I fit in his situation, you know, I'm all for it. But the main thing is to be a veteran, help all the young guys out, and be positive and a good locker-room guy, and to be competitive on the field, and to push those guys to try to win a championship."
Hejduk's joy reflects the twists that brought him back to his native Southern California and the always sun-kissed outlook of American soccer's surfer boy -- who was quite happy to stay in Columbus after eight years (and one MLS Cup championship) with the Crew.
"It just kind of happened kind of strangely and was a bit weird in the beginning," Hejduk said. "Obviously, to be with a club for so long, and to give your heart and soul to a club, and then to kind of be released or whatever, however it went down ... so it was a weird feeling in the beginning.
"But then it quickly turned to elation when I heard that the Galaxy was interested, and I'd talked to Bruce. I was very excited. It went from kind of a bummed-out feeling a bit, to be honest, to a real ... 'Omigosh! Wow! I get to go play with the Galaxy! This is insane!'"
He says he's "always got a smile on my face right now, and the sun is shining, and the weather's sweet."
Hejduk, a junior surfing champion who opted for a soccer career when UCLA dangled a scholarship, has been the first-choice right back for the Crew since he returned in 2003 from five seasons in Germany and Switzerland. That's where Sean Franklin plays for the Galaxy, although Hejduk and Franklin can play in midfield, too.
"Frankie's a good player," Arena said. "In the initial going, even at his age, if he's not our fittest player, one of our top two or three players. He gives us a lot of experience, can play anywhere in the back as well as wide midfielder. With forty-some-odd games [on the Galaxy schedule] this year, it's going to be important that we not only have a solid backline, but we have guys that can step in and play."
Said veteran defender Gregg Berhalter, who played with Hejduk in the 2002 World Cup, when asked about Hejduk: "I can't wait. I can't wait. He's a good friend of mine, and obviously when he signed, I was excited. The energy he brings to a team, what he means to a locker room, how he keeps the guys loose, his commitment on the field is second to none. We're lucky to have a guy like that."
Hejduk feels most fortunate.
"From everything that's happened, this is the best situation that could have happened for me," he said. "If it wasn't Columbus, I wouldn't want to play for any other team but being here in L.A., and it worked out perfectly. ...
"I'm really excited about it, and I think it's going to be -- as you guys can see on paper -- we have a pretty incredible team. It's really impressive, but teams on paper and getting out there and doing it on the field are two separate things. We've got to take that team that everyone sees on paper, and everyone sees it so good, and translate that out onto the field, and I think we're going to do that, and I think we're capable of doing that."