Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Following back-to-back MLS Cup championships, the LA Galaxy’s 2013 Major League Soccer season ended earlier than expected.
If you ask Bruce Arena, however, that might not have been a bad thing.
For the first time since 2010, the Galaxy had an extended offseason, allowing the entire squad to recover from a variety of injuries suffered over the course of the year. Robbie Keane underwent Achilles surgery, Landon Donovan was able to heal his banged up ankle, and him and Omar Gonzalez were able to participate fully in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.
The Galaxy opened salary cap room during the offseason with the departures of Carlo Cudicini, Sean Franklin, and Hector Jimenez, all the while adding two new forwards, Brazilian Samuel and Canadian international Rob Friend.
The key acquisition this offseason was Swedish winger Stefan Ishizaki, a veteran of the Swedish National Team and a long-time player in the Swedish Allsvenskan. The right-sided player is expected to bring some consistency to a position that Arena was forced to rotate a number of players through, including Donovan, Zardes, Jimenez, Rafael Garcia, and Robbie Rogers, to name a few.
With a refreshed Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez heading into the 2014 MLS season, Arena and the Galaxy are looking to return to the MLS summit.
Here’s a closer look at the 2014 LA Galaxy:
LA GALAXY SEASON PREVIEW
2014 FINISH: 15-11-8, 53 points (Third in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Stefan Ishizaki, Samuel, Rob Friend, Baggio Husidic, Bradford Jamieson IV, Raul Mendiola
KEY LOSSES: Sean Franklin, Carlo Cudicini, Michael Stephens, Jose Villarreal (loan to Cruz Azul), Hector Jimenez, Pablo Mastroeni, Laurent Courtois
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Stefan Ishizaki. The Swedish midfielder was signed on a free transfer by Bruce Arena to help shore up the right wing position and give the team a more veteran presence.
PRESSURE IS ON: Jaime Penedo: It can be argued that the Galaxy may have finished higher in the Western Conference standings if not for the poor play of Carlo Cudicini. After Penedo made his debut on Aug. 11, the Galaxy lost only two more games through the rest of the regular season. With a Designated player in defense, midfield, and up top, Penedo will be counted on to keep the ball out of the net with better consistency than Cudicini.
Following a disappointing season without silverware, the Galaxy made sure not to make any major moves this offseason, keeping the core of the team around for another season.
After losing David Beckham, Edson Buddle, and then trading Mike Magee early in the 2013 season, the Galaxy relied on Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan way more than they would have hoped as youngsters Jose Villarreal, Gyasi Zardes, and Jack McBean were given plenty of chances to play.
Now, with the entire team one year older and more experienced, this team on paper is expected to be one of the favorites to compete for an MLS Cup title once again.
“A big part of this team this year is that we’re going to have good depth and experienced players that can play a lot of roles throughout the season,” head coach Bruce Arena told LA Galaxy Insider. “We’re hopeful that our team is a little bit better and a little bit more consistent because if there was a weakness last year, it’s that we were inconsistent.
“We were one of the top teams in league in terms of scoring goals and one of the top teams defending. Yet, the results were inconsistent,” Arena continued. “I’m hoping that we have a little bit more quality and a little bit more experience this year that will allow us to play more consistently.”
As mentioned above, the key for this year’s Galaxy club will be the play of Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and the two central defenders in front of him, Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo. Penedo looked very strong in net following his signing last August though Gonzalez and Leonardo each showed moments of weakness throughout the season and will need to improve.
Moving forward, the Galaxy brought in Baggio Husidic to back up Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho in central midfield, with Arena citing during the offseason that he wants to see more out of that pair this season. Following a 2012 campaign where they scored nine goals and nine assists combined, 2013 they regressed in the scoring department, finishing just five times and assisting ten times.
With a full offseason under his belt, former U.S. international Robbie Rogers will be expected to play up to his prior level. Otherwise, he’ll find himself down on the depth chart behind new signing Stefan Ishizaki and either Zardes or Donovan. A strong season from both Ishizaki and Rogers will go a long way towards the Galaxy’s success in 2014.
Up top, Keane and Donovan finally has some more experience alongside them after a failed experiment with the youngsters. McBean and Zardes may have opportunities to play this season (while Jose Villarreal spends 2014 on loan with Cruz Azul) but they’ll be behind Brazilian forward Samuel and former Canadian international Rob Friend, who has spent his whole career playing in Europe.
The Galaxy will need to hit the ground running this season as they have two difficult tests against Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League coming on March 12 and March 18. Another challenge this Galaxy side have to face is the likely loss of both Donovan and Gonzalez for the 2014 World Cup. MLS will take a break during the group stage, but the Galaxy pair will surely be a part of the pre-World Cup camp in mid-to-late May and could miss three to four games.
With three Designated Players on the roster, the Galaxy are expected every year to compete for an MLS Cup title, and this year is no different. President Chris Klein, Arena, and his coaching staff are banking on the experienced additions to convince everyone that last year was just a blip on the radar.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP