During his 25 years with the LA Galaxy, Joe Tutino has seen the very best come through Los Angeles. And he’s very thankful for that chance.
CARSON, Calif. — Joe Tutino never forgets.
The long-time LA Galaxy broadcaster, now in his 25th season with the five-time MLS Cup champions, can’t help but think of not only what it is now but what it once was — “it” being Major League Soccer and its not-so-steady rise to becoming the sports entity it is today. The league started with ten teams in 1996, was rumored to be on the verge of folding in the early 2000s, and now consists of 26 teams with four more to join by 2022.
“For us who came from a very difficult time in our sport, you just don’t take anything for granted,” the 50-year-old native of San Diego said. “I don’t think those of us from day one who were around it can do that.”
The youngest son of Italian immigrants grew up with the North American Soccer League and felt a tremendous loss with its demise in 1984.
“I had nowhere to go,” he recalled with a grin. “I wanted to be a soccer broadcaster, and you worry about those things. So you never forget. It’s almost like those who came from the depression saved every penny, right?”
Tutino actually wanted to become a sportswriter coming out of high school but soon found his niche behind a microphone. And thanks to former broadcasting partner Rick Davis, who was a long-time captain of the U.S. men’s national team, and former Galaxy marketing official C. Pat O’Brien, Tutino finally got the opportunity he had been craving for.
“I was a big enough pain in the ass to where somebody gave me a chance,” he said with a laugh.
But before he became the club’s radio and television voice in 1999, he was the public address announcer at the team’s first-ever MLS game against the MetroStars on April 13, 1996 at the Rose Bowl. Tutino still vividly remembers sitting in his booth at that game next to Danny Villanueva, then one of the team owners, and asking him for his crowd expectations. He was told maybe 30,000, but something unusual soon occurred.
As the night progressed, out of the corner of his right eye, he looked down, and behind the goal to his right, people started to pull tarps off. The attendance eventually grew to a stunning 69,225.
“That took everybody by storm,” he said.
There were plenty of doubters, however, who remained steadfast in their collective belief that the crowd reaction was a one-time thing, and the league was a novelty. But look where the league is now, he pointed out, thanks to the efforts of one man in particular.
“Everybody talks about David Beckham,” he said of the former Galaxy great who now owns his own team, Inter Miami CF. “To me, I keep saying this … David Beckham opened the door to this league. I know some people won’t like to hear it, people that poured their blood, sweat, and tears, and they’re saying, ‘What about our efforts?’ Well, their efforts led to David Beckham, and he opened the door for the rest of the world to look at this league.
“And it exploded from there.”
Tutino admitted he’s “pretty blessed, honestly,” to have been with the Galaxy for 25 years.
“You guys know how this business works,” he said. “Management changes, different broadcasting companies change, and many times you’re out the window. Maybe I was the one who wanted to be a soccer broadcaster, and others wanted to be broadcasters of other sports. Maybe that’s the reason why I got the opportunity to stay.
“From the early days to (late Galaxy general manager) Doug Hamilton, God rest his soul, and on, everybody who has been in charge has always shined a light on me.”
Tutino was asked to name his five most memorable Galaxy players, and he had no trouble revealing his first choice. Maybe that’s because he currently serves as Tutino’s broadcast analyst.
“I have to start with Cobi Jones,” he said. “For the first ten years, certainly Cobi was the face of this team and the league and maybe to some people the U.S. national team. I think what I liked about Cobi was when I watched him play, he represented everything about American players … tenacious, would never give up. It didn’t matter if you were bigger than him or not, he would fight you.”
His second choice was goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
“From a stretch of the late 1990s to the fight he had with (Matt) Reis to be the number one (goalie) overall and winning that job, I always felt Kevin was alongside Tony Meola, the best shot-stopper in the league for a long time,” he said. “Maybe I have an affinity for goalkeepers because I was one.”
Landon Donovan was No. 3 on his list.
“Landon Donovan, to me, is the face of American soccer. The greatest American soccer player of all time,” Tutino said. “I think he’s the first complete player we’ve had to be able to play consistently at a high level. There have been guys who could do it here and there, and I know guys who would say, ‘What about so and so?’ Yeah, but none of them did it as long as Landon did.
“Landon knows I wish he would have done it a little bit longer. I feel he would have had another World Cup in him, and the United States would have qualified for Russia, and he would have represented his country.”
Then came Beckham.
“To call his games was an honor for six years,” Tutino said. “So many things changed with him. Think about David … he’d hit a ball 60 yards and put it on your foot. We had not seen that in this league. Even though this was probably below his level of play, as the team got more talent and understood his language of play, then you saw him become even more prolific.
“I go back to that free-kick he had Barcelona in that friendly game at the Rose Bowl (on Aug. 1, 2009), that 25-yard strike. That was incredible, incredible. To be able to call that …”
Fifth was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, despite his brief stay in Southern California.
“Ibra brought talent, incredible talent,” he said. “I wish he was a little more diplomatic, but in terms of his play on the field, in terms of the way he scored his 500th goal in Toronto … what he was able to do was incredible. When he was motivated, he was two goals a game. Minimum.”
His favorite coach was Bruce Arena, although the late Sigi Schmid was a close second, “Maybe 1 and 1a,” Tutino said. His favorite Galaxy team? The 2011 edition, which had the league’s best record and won MLS Cup. But it’s his favorite one by only a slight margin.
“They went wire to wire, right?” Tutino said. “And 2012 was great because they fought so hard. In 2005 everybody thought they weren’t good enough, but they ripped everybody apart in the last third of the year and rolled on to the championship.
“It’s hard to say which is my favorite team. I would have to say getting back to the finals after the dark years of the Galaxy, which were 2006-2008, getting back to the final and winning it, 2011 if I had to pick one.”
So many memories, and so many reasons to give thanks.
“There’s not many of these jobs,” he said. “I was one of ten when we had only ten teams; now we’re closing in on 30 teams in a hurry. It’s not just the Galaxy players I want to perform well for because they’re the guys that are working on the field. It’s for the 27,000 people that are here.
“There are so many people working hard to bring this sport to where it needs to go. We’re not done yet. Not even close.”