HARDEN GOES HOLLYWOOD.
On the night of July 22, Ty Harden walked the red carpet with his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates, past the clicking cameras and lines of screaming fans and into a private party at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary in downtown L.A.
Once inside, Harden mingled and hobnobbed with A-list Hollywood celebrities like Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Bruce Willis and Eva Longoria, NBA superstar LeBron James, and of course, the guests of honor, new Galaxy player David Beckham and his wife, Victoria.
"It was pretty cool," Harden said of the party hosted by Cruise and Smith and attended by 600, all there to officially welcome the Beckhams to Los Angeles. "It was a really private party so they were probably more relaxed. They were all really nice. Some even wanted to meet us."
Welcome to Harden's Major League Soccer rookie season, where paparazzi, international media attention and sold-out stadiums are the norm, and where some of the most famous celebrities in the world want to meet him - a 23-year-old kid from Junction City just trying to live out a lifelong dream.
"It's not as crazy as people imagine," said Harden, the starting center back for the Galaxy, who is in Dallas for tonight's match against FC Dallas. "At times it's been slightly overwhelming, but I do like L.A. and it's not too hard to get away."
Harden has witnessed firsthand the extraordinary arrival and debut of Beckham, one of the most recognizable figures in the sport and a childhood hero of Harden's.
Beckham signed a five-year contract worth more than $250 million with the Galaxy on Jan. 11. One day later, Harden, a four-year defensive starter and all-Pac-10 performer for Washington, was drafted by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2007 SuperDraft.
While Harden joined the team in early February for training camp, Beckham didn't show up until mid-July, once his commitments to his Real Madrid team were complete.
"I didn't know what to expect from him," Harden said. "I had heard he was real down-to-earth and a good guy and he really lived up to all of that. When he first arrived, he went around the locker room and introduced himself to everyone as if we didn't know who he was. And you could tell he had been watching us because he said a few personal comments to everyone."
Beckham's on-field debut came July 21 against Chelsea in front of a star-studded crowd of 26,000 at the team's home field in Carson, Calif.
"That was a lot of fun," Harden said. "The crowd, even before the opening whistle, the crowd was into it, cheering and chanting. Then when he went in, they really went crazy. It was so loud."
It must have felt a million miles away from the pitch at Junction City High School, where Harden once helped the Tigers rule the Class 3A soccer scene.
Harden was the linchpin on Junction City's back-to-back state championship teams in 2001-02. He was also the state player of the year both seasons.
His career at Washington ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this past season.
Though the Galaxy haven't had the best season - they're 3-5-4 and in fifth place in the West - their defense has been among the best in the MLS.
Los Angeles has allowed 18 goals, second-fewest in the league, and Harden, the only player on the team besides goalkeeper Joe Cannon to start all 12 MLS games, has been right in the mix.
"It's been really exciting," Harden said. "I was thrown into a starting role right away and that's what I always wanted."
Harden said he benefited a little from being in the right place at the right time.
"I came into a very good situation," he said. "They needed center backs and defenders in general. I had a rocky start but I think I've gotten better. So getting the starting job was a bit of luck and lot of hard work and making the most of my chance."
Though Beckham has dominated the attention recently, the Galaxy have other individuals within their organization who have been household names in the United States for much longer. Forward Landon Donovan is considered one of the best U.S.-born players ever. Midfielder Cobi Jones, the team's all-time leading scorer, first became popular during the 1994 World Cup, and general manager Alexi Lalas was essentially the face of U.S. soccer throughout the 1990s.
"Those were all names I watched growing up," Harden said. "I think it says a lot about me and all the hard work I've put in to get here and play with these guys. This is what I've wanted to do since I was little."
Now he's living the dream, and then some.