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The passing of Doug Hamilton: MLS lost a true friend

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Josh Simeone, My Sportsbook Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (My Sportsbook) - I never met Los Angeles Galaxy executive Doug Hamilton, and to be honest, when I do decide to throw away the shackles of being a neutral member of the media, I don't even cheer for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

I cheer for my hometown Colorado Rapids, but that is another column for another time.

Recently, Major League Soccer lost a hero, a pioneer, a legend, a friend, a father, a risk taker, a thinker, a genius and an overall passionate person.

When Doug Hamilton died, his name didn't make any huge headlines outside of the soccer wires across the United States. ESPN didn't break into regularly scheduled programming to announce his tragic death, nor did NBC's Brian Williams do a story on what the future would hold for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

In fact, very few people outside of the soccer world or in the greater Los Angeles area may even realize he is gone. But one thing is for certain: Hamilton brought to the Galaxy what Lebron James brings to the Cleveland Cavaliers, what the Simpsons brings to the Fox Network and what Bob Costas brings to sports broadcasting... he helped make the club what it is today.

Whatever spin you put on it, Hamilton made the Los Angeles Galaxy a league super power. He sold the sport of soccer to a city that couldn't have cared less and he helped bring MLS into the spotlight.

That's no easy task when considering the very far back seat soccer takes to other professional sports in this country. And on top of it all, Hamilton accomplished what few soccer GM's have been able to do in a classy manner that would make any MLS player or official proud.

Hamilton didn't have a final word to leave us with, and he wasn't even in Los Angeles when he died. Instead, Hamilton died of what team officials have reported to be an apparent heart attack while aboard a Lacsa Airlines flight that was returning to L. A. Reportedly, a team doctor attempted to resuscitate Hamilton, but was unsuccessful.

On an afternoon four days after Hamilton's death, more than 1,000 people arrived at The Home Depot Center to pay tribute to the Galaxy GM, who was fondly known as "Dougie" by those who knew him best. Past and present players, colleagues, friends and family all traveled to remember the soccer great.

Hamilton left the soccer world at just the age of 43, but his work for the Galaxy has made the team what it is today, and for that, his name will be remembered by the league for years to come.

KEPT 'EM CONSISTENT, MADE 'EM WIN

Yes, the Los Angeles Galaxy was a great MLS club before Doug Hamilton took control. The manager took the California helm in 2002 after a two-year stop with former MLS club, the Miami Fusion.

Prior to the beginning of the Galaxy-Hamilton relationship, the L.A. franchise was already creating scoring streaks, winning games and impressing fans. Since its 1996 start, the Galaxy have always played a role in the MLS playoffs. The club has consistently finished the season in the top spots in the Western Conference, and has consistently moved onto the post season.

In 1997, when it looked as if the club's successes were spent with a dismal 1-7 start to the season, the Galaxy surprised and shocked everyone, winning the season's final six games. The results were no doubt a surprise, especially to the other clubs in the west, after seeing a team was destined for very little that year, make it all the way to the second place spot in the division.

It goes without saying, the Galaxy has been one of the league's most successful teams. Some may even say a model franchise, but the team was missing one major thing, a MLS title.

That's where Hamilton stepped in, just after the Galaxy had blown another shot at MLS glory, with a 2-1 overtime loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001. The trophy case must have looked empty when Hamilton first stepped into the team's front office suite to meet with the Galaxy brass. And whether he knew it or not, his time in L. A. would change the club's meaning of the word success for good.

In his first season, Hamilton helped the team to its first MLS championship with a thrilling one goal win over the New England Revolution in front of a bunch of screaming New England fans.

It was a great start for the new manager, who took the successes the team had already garnered, and improved them by bringing an MLS title to the west coast.

Though the team failed to reach the final match over the next two seasons, Hamilton still kept the team a known threat in the league on and off the field.

His efforts didn't go unnoticed, as Hamilton was awarded the Executive of the Year award two years in a row for his work during the '03 and '04 seasons.

Even when the club struggled in 2003 and was forced to play much of the start of its season on the road due to the construction of the Home Depot Center, it was Hamilton who played a large role in keeping the team from failing.

Though '04 wasn't the team's model season, it was still a playoff year, continuing the team's streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

In 2005, the Galaxy marched through the regular season and earned a spot in the playoffs. The team's dominance helped it to the league's final game, a showdown with the New England Revolution at Pizza Hut Park.

In a fashion similar to its first MLS title, the Galaxy again won by only a goal over the Revs to earn its second title in franchise history. It was also the second title for its general manager, who again proved he was the perfect match for the Los Angeles club.

FILLED THE SEATS, ENSURED THE FUTURE

Hamilton's impressive resume for his work on the field can only be compared to his work off the field. For Hamilton, it seemed the job never ended after the final whistle, or final game.

In 2004, the Galaxy sold out five games at the Home Depot Center to set a club record for capacity attendance. Under Hamilton's direction, the team also shattered MLS attendance records, averaging more than 23,000 fans at home during the '04 season.

Again, year after year, that feat has consistently proven never to be easy in any MLS market, much less the Los Angeles market.

Hamilton's work went beyond ticket sales though, as the GM worked to ensure the team's future. Hamilton helped to build a dynasty on the field, and a dynasty off the field, as he pursued partnerships with various community organizations and youth soccer leagues.

The GM again made MLS history in 2004, signing a deal with Brazilian club Sao Paulo, the first ever MLS deal with an international team.

Hamilton also helped lead the way to television and English and Spanish radio deals, both of which, in addition to providing fans with availability to games, also helped the team market itself to a wider audience.

Whether these partnerships will benefit the team years from now is still yet to be decided. But if anything can be taken away from Hamilton's timeline as the Galaxy GM, it's that the Galaxy found a leader that truly cared just as much for his team's future and reputation off the field, as he did on the field.

Sure, these ideas were not groundbreaking business ventures that are meant to be published in an esteemed business journal. But it was the fact that Hamilton helped to successfully execute these ventures that makes them a very important footnote in the team's and the league's history.

THE BLING-BLING

As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy trophy case had some vacancies when Hamilton took control. But those vacancies were quickly erased during the GM's first season.

In addition to leading the club to two league titles in his four seasons, Hamilton also helped the club to its first "Domestic Double" in club history with wins in the 2005 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the '05 MLS Cup championship win.

Give credit to the players, the trainers, the coaching staff, whomever you want... but make sure to include the general manager, who played a large role in putting together a successful squad.

But Hamilton's success shouldn't me measured on trophies and awards alone. Even if the Galaxy had come up short in 2002 and 2005, just like it had in past MLS Cup games, Hamilton should still be deemed a great GM.

During his four seasons, Hamilton accomplished a very important goal by putting the team's success before his tenure, and improving them. Hamilton found a way to make a good team better, and that task is worth any award.

THE FUTURE FOR THE GALAXY

As I mentioned earlier, I never met Doug Hamilton, and I don't know any of the Galaxy members personally. What I can say though, from my position, is that Major League Soccer lost a true hero this month.

There's no doubt that the league is filled with promising executives and GM's who care about the game and their respective teams just as much as Hamilton. But whether you manage D.C. United or Chivas USA, there's no doubt that any manager could take a page on the job Doug Hamilton did for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

March 17, 2006, at 12:36 PM ET
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