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'I didn't have much of a choice'

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 1, 2001


Danny Pena swiped a mosquito off his right leg after training Tuesday and reflected on his recent move from Los Angeles to the Mutiny.

"Starting to hate this trade even more," Pena said jokingly.

Bug bites and sweltering humidity aside, Pena said he is getting used to his new team. A Los Angeles native, Pena, 33, was dealt to the Mutiny on July 20 for a conditional 2002 draft pick. He arrived in time for the July 21 game against Colorado and played 90 minutes at defensive midfield.

It wasn't easy for Pena to leave Los Angeles. He has played his entire five-year Major League Soccer career for the Galaxy, starting 97 of 103 matches. A knee injury in June 2000 ended his season, but he came back to play in 10 games.

He did not, however, play in the Galaxy's past five games. The Mutiny stepped up talks about acquiring Pena a month ago. After several conversations with L.A. coach Sigi Schmid, Pena decided it was best to leave his hometown, and a playoff team, for the last-place Mutiny.

"(Schmid) knows I didn't want to leave L.A.," Pena said. "He asked me on more than one occasion about Tampa Bay. I made it very clear, couldn't have made it any clearer, that I had no interest at the time of going anywhere. He brought it to me a fourth time and when you ask a player a fourth time if he wants to be traded it starts to wear on you a little bit. You start to wonder.

"As far as people know, it was my choice, but I didn't have much of a choice. People need to understand that."

Pena is signed by MLS through this season with an option for next season. He's a 13-year veteran who has spent his career in the United States. Pena has played in various indoor leagues.

As a 20-year-old rookie, Pena played with Mutiny coach Perry Van Der Beck for the Wichita Wings of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

"Danny Pena was a player (former Mutiny coach) Tim (Hankinson) and I, and (former coach) Alfonso (Mondelo), always wanted to have," Van Der Beck said. "When I got involved I talked to Danny and told him it can work out here. It goes back 21/2 years in trying to get him here. It hasn't been that strong at times, but hey, these things take time."

Pena actually turned down a move in 1998. He was selected by Chicago in the expansion draft but refused to leave the Galaxy. L.A. made Chris Armas available instead to allow Pena to stay.

This time he decided to leave.

"It was a situation where if I wanted to play beyond this year I had to make a move now," Pena said. "I could've stayed in L.A. and been content but then at the end of the year it would've been a situation where I was left without a team or left unprotected. I knew how much interest Tampa Bay had in me. I just felt it was in my best interest to make the move now, as difficult as it was.

"My decision was basically made about three weeks to a month ago. All I was waiting for was Sigi to pull the trigger. I was fully prepared to come here 31/2 weeks ago. "

Van Der Beck expects Pena to give his sagging club a shot in the arm.

"This team has lacked an experienced leader since (defender) Frank Yallop left (after the '98 season)," Van Der Beck said. "We have good, solid veterans in the back like Joe Addo and Steve Trittschuh, but they're not the vocal leader like Danny Pena. It's important to have a player like that."

CURTIS RETURNS: Rookie forward Ali Curtis has practiced all week and could play in Saturday's match against San Jose. Curtis has been out since injuring the lateral miniscus in his left knee against Kansas City on June 30.

Curtis had surgery July 6 and began practicing lightly last week.

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