May 2009 Galaxy Quest The Real Wizard of the Galaxy Chris Klein Clay Meyer
A bicycle kick in itself is pretty mystifying, considering the player begins the kick with his back facing the intended target. He then hurls his head and upper body backward toward the ground while his feet and legs whip up into the place his upper body was. All of these acrobatics are an attempt to accurately strike a flying soccer ball.
Imagine executing that kind of kick while your team is trailing 1-0 in the waning seconds of a highly competitive Superliga final match.
Chris Klein — #7
Born: Jan. 4, 1976
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Height/Weight: 6-0/185 lbs.
1998-2005: Kansas City Wizards
2006-2007: Real Salt Lake
2007-Present: L.A. Galaxy
• Two-time MLS All-Star (2002, 2004)
• 2000 MLS Cup Champion (Kansas City Wizards)
• Two-time MLS ACE Comeback Player of the Year (2002, 2005)
• L.A. Galaxy Honda Most Valuable Player (2007)
• Started in a record 115-straight MLS games entering the 2009 season
L.A. Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein doesn't have to imagine anything. He lived it. On Aug. 29, 2007, to be exact, when the Galaxy took on C.F. Pachuca. As one blogger* wrote, "You're one down, you're deep into stoppage time, the seconds are ticking off … And then this play happens. Magical."
As Christians, we are specifically instructed in Deuteronomy to avoid all kinds of magic and not practice sorcery, but apparently some labels just won't go away. Klein was again linked with the magical when LAGalaxy.com writer Rachel Caton described his consecutive start streak in an article titled "Klein Closing in on Magical No. 100." (The streak stood at 115 and counting entering the 2009 MLS season.)
Klein himself prefers to take a more biblical approach to the supernatural events that have dotted his 12-year MLS career. As he puts it, "God has blessed me."
A simple statement from a humble man of faith.
Klein may have shied away from the spotlight of accomplishment during his time with the Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake and L.A. Galaxy, but he has never missed an opportunity to further his off-the-pitch legacy. His aim, whether he prefers to attack it head-on or starting with his back toward it, is simply to spread the name of the One for whom he competes.
"Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.'" – Genesis 2:18
Growing up in St. Louis the product of a strong, Christian home, Chris Klein attended church with his parents and learned from the Bible. He also excelled athletically, especially on the soccer field, and, as a senior in high school, garnered many athletic scholarship offers.
In the end, Klein chose Indiana University because, as he put it, "It was one of the most professionally run places I had ever been a part of. From their focus on academics to the product they put on the field, they just did everything in a first-class manner."
It was also during his time in Bloomington, Ind., that the faith he had acquired at home was challenged by a new acquaintance.
"Angela, who is now my wife, asked me questions about my faith — what I felt and thought, not just what was fed to me or what was taught to me over the years," Klein said. "It really got me to examine my faith. I realized I'd just listened and done what I was told and never really made it my own. During my senior year I made the personal decision to follow Jesus and accept Him in my heart."
With Angela's help, his walk with the Lord had really taken off when his playing days at IU ended, and without a professional soccer league to advance to, the working world beckoned. But Klein's plans were not the same as God's — a scenario with which Klein is now very familiar.
"There was a man in the country of Uz named Job. He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil … Job was the greatest man among all the people of the east." – Job 1:1,3b
MLS was formed in 1993 as part of the United States' bid to host the 1994 World Cup. After its first competitive season was held in 1996, the league struggled, trying to survive purely on American soccer talent. MLS made it through those early years and has since focused on developing U.S. athletes while also importing talented international players.
Klein planned on leaving the game of soccer behind when he left Indiana in 1994, but in 1998, before the third MLS season, he entered his name in the draft and was selected fourth overall by the Kansas City Wizards. Despite his four-year hiatus, he wasn't as concerned with getting back into playing shape as he was preparing for the new level of competition.
"I knew that no matter what happened, God was going to use it for good. I didn't know how it was going to look, but I knew it was going to happen."
Klein's fear of being subpar in the league was quickly squelched as he established himself as a top player in just his second year. The following season, in 2000, he played an instrumental part in helping the Wizards to the MLS Cup Championship.
"That was the best overall team I'd ever been on," said Klein, who assisted on Miklos Molnar's game-winning goal in the 1-0 championship victory. "Our coach, Bob Gansler, really pounded away that we weren't going to win it as one single player. Everyone knew their role, and everyone knew what contribution they had to make."
During his time in Kansas City, Klein also began establishing himself as a Christian role model, getting involved with the local FCA and the ministry of Wizards team chaplain Steve Morgan. Klein also took part in a Bible study with former FCA staff member Mike Lusardi and former Kansas City Royals Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa, among others. Being part of a study with such outspoken men challenged Klein in his own witness.
"Those guys had the confidence to pray and open their Bibles in a crowded restaurant," Klein said. "Quite honestly, I was very uncomfortable doing that before I met those guys. But it encouraged me to be able to go confidently and talk to the media, friends or teammates about my faith."
John Shore, a long-time FCA volunteer and 11-year staff member in the Kansas City area, remembers Klein as a very unique professional athlete.
"I can never recall him saying 'no,' and that was the type of man he was and continues to be," Shore said. "He always made himself available, which is so unusual and unique for a guy who is one of the top soccer players born in America. He is a role model and the type of man you want your kids to grow up to be like."
"'...The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of the LORD.' Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything." – Job 1:21b-22
Klein's time in Kansas City was not without its problems. After guiding the Wizards through the 2001 season, which included another playoff run, he tore the ACL in his right knee during the offseason.
This was the first major injury he had ever faced and, considering the damage that was done, it appeared to be potentially career-ending. Klein was faced with an uncertain future. The career he'd considered a blessing from God appeared to be slipping away. Rather than curse God for the trial, though, he turned to Him to get through the rehab.
Now with the L.A. Galaxy, Chris Klein first earned his soccer fame with the Kansas City Wizards.
"I remember driving home just feeling a sense of peace about the unknown," Klein said. "I knew that no matter what happened, God was going to use it for good. I didn't know how it was going to look, but I knew it was going to happen."
Now on the other end of the trial, Klein can see that his attitude and trust in the Lord added a new chapter to his growing testimony. His recovery went so well that he was back on the pitch in 2002, a season in which he was selected as an MLS All-Star and earned the ACE Comeback Player of the Year award. The Wizards once again made the playoffs that year and in 2003, but were ousted both times in the early rounds.
The next season, in 2004, after being named an All-Star for the second time, Klein suffered another setback when he tore his left ACL in the 19th game of the season. This time, however, he felt an even greater sense of peace, as he had a knowledge of the process and how to get through it. He bounced back for 2005 and was, again, named the ACE Comeback Player of the Year.
"Without Christ through both injuries, I would have felt helpless and panicked," Klein said. "But with Him I felt confident. I knew that I was going to be OK."
"The LORD said to Abram: 'Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.'" – Genesis 12:1-2
Klein admitted that he and his family became pretty comfortable in Kansas City. Both being Midwesterners, he and his wife were familiar with the area, relatively close to home and accustomed to the way of life.
But just as God called Abram to leave all that was familiar to him, Klein was forced to leave the Midwest when he was acquired by Real Salt Lake prior to the 2006 season.
"In Isaiah 6, God says, 'Whom shall I send?' and Isaiah says, 'Send me.' That is the attitude that I try to have."
"Salt Lake was a culture shock," Klein said. "With the strong Mormon influence, we had to learn about a different religion and different people. It was a big change for us."
Despite the transition, Klein was still able to be productive on the field, starting in all 32 games and earning MLS Player of the Week honors for week 21 of the season.
His time off the field was spiritually productive as well, as the Kleins were able to plug into a Christian church in nearby Park City, Utah. Klein also spoke to several groups in the area about his faith and was able to be a witness to his teammates.
"I wasn't there all that long, but the ministry opportunities with guys on the team were something I really enjoyed," he said. "It was an experience that was good for our family."
Midway through his second season in Utah, Klein was traded to Los Angeles. Through another change in scenery, he saw more biblical parallels as his family continued to move west.
"The great thing about the Bible is that, although we usually fall short of the characters' examples, we can kind of relate to all of them," he said. "With the trade here to L.A., we had to ask God what it was going to look like and what role I was going to be playing. In Isaiah 6, God says, 'Whom shall I send?' and Isaiah says, 'Send me.' That is the attitude I try to have. We just have to trust in God and know that He is painting the picture. As long as I can follow and be prayerful to stay in His will, it is going to be a beautiful painting."
"Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine beside a spring ... the archers attacked him, shot at him, and were hostile toward him. Yet his bow remained steady, and his strong arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel…" – Genesis 49:22-24
Klein has been successful in his new surroundings, being named the Galaxy's 2007 Honda Most Valuable Player despite joining the team midway through the season. But he is quick to turn the spotlight away from the laurels of soccer and focus instead on the impact he has in the locker room and in his community.
"I think in every locker room I've been in, I've tried to be very open with my teammates," he said. "When you get to know them, you make yourself more credible to being able to share your life experiences and how Christ has changed your life. I also like to speak to FCA groups and churches in the area. I try to make myself available to do that whenever it is God's calling."
Klein (second from left) and teammates at the Galaxy's team chapel with chaplain Ray Caldwell (third from right)
Through the teaching of Galaxy team chaplain Ray Caldwell, Klein has been able to learn and grow in his faith and help younger players who are less experienced in theirs.
"Ray just does a fantastic job of being available for guys," he said. "It's an encouragement to me, but I think more importantly it's an encouragement to some of the younger guys."
"But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." – Psalm 1:2-3 (NIV)
Klein still has seasons left in him, seasons he would like to see end with championships. But he remains fixed on the legacy he wants to leave when he hangs up his cleats for the last time.
"I really want to leave this game in better shape than I found it, maybe something my son can be a part of when he is older," he said. "And from a spiritual side, I want to leave a legacy as a Christian athlete, a positive example to look back on."
Klein can rest assured. According to those he has influenced and even those still left to be touched, that legacy has already been established.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
*Fan forum blogger "Laurie"
Photos courtesy of Robert Mora/LA Galaxy; Ray Caldwell.