By ADAM SERRANO
In 2011, the Los Angeles Galaxy won it all. Now in 2012, the Galaxy appear even stronger than the side that took the MLS Cup home in November.
During the offseason the Galaxy added forward Edson Buddle to pair with Robbie Keane and returned both David Beckham and Juninho to the club's stacked midfield. The news wasn't completely rosy for the Galaxy, as the club lost reigning Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez for 6-to-8 months due to an ACL tear suffered while he was on loan to German side FC Nurenberg.
Despite Gonzalez' injury, the Galaxy remain odds-on favorites to retain their title and make a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League, but first, the Galaxy must find their footing immediately ahead of a busy 2012 season.
"We need time to develop our team as what they're going to be about this year," head coach Bruce Arena said. "It's a little bit different than last year so we need a little time to really see how we develop a style, a mentality and how we go about our business."
Here is a closer look at the Galaxy ahead of the 2012 MLS season:
2011 FINISH: 19-5-10, 67 points (1st place in Western Conference; MLS Cup champions)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Edson Buddle; M Marcelo Sarvas; M Kyle Nakazawa; D Andrew Boyens; M/F Pat Noonan; M Jose Villareal; D Tommy Meyer
KEY LOSSES: D Gregg Berhalter; G Donovan Ricketts; M/F Miguel Lopez; M Jovan Kirovski, D Dasan Robinson; D Frankie Hejduk; M Chris Birchall
Although the Galaxy are led by their star power, it will be the club's depth that will need to impress over the course of the congested schedule. With international commitments and potential injuries also likely to play a role over the long season, Arena has bolstered the Galaxy's already-deep bench with the signings of vesatile midfielder Kyle Nakazawa and forward Pat Noonan.
But Arena's most important signing of the offseason may not be one of the stars, but midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who appears ready to challenge for a spot in the Galaxy's starting XI. Billed as Juninho's replacement prior to the Brazilian's surprise return on loan from Sao Paolo, Sarvas' silky passing ability and nose for goal were on full display during a stellar preseason. Arena has not ruled out moving Beckham out to the right flank so that the former Alajuelense man can partner with Juninho in the middle.
"He's a good player, he has some similarities to Juninho and he's a good passer in that position with a good work rate," said Arena. "In those positions in the central midfield, playing two central midfielders, our plans are to play four players there. We think that we have some good options."
Behind the Galaxy's stacked attack, questions loom for the defending MLS Cup champions. With the departure of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, Josh Saunders must prove that he can handle a full season as the club's No. 1 keeper. With Gonzalez out for at least six months, Arena's most pressing concern lies in central defense as he attempts to replace him.
Andrew Boyens appears to have locked down the spot alongside A.J. DeLaGarza for the time being after starting against Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League, but expect rookie Tommy Meyer and Brazilian centerback Leonardo — once he recovers from ACL surgery — to see time beside DeLaGarza as the season wears on. Throughout preseason and against Toronto, the Galaxy's once vaunted defense was error-prone, particularly on set pieces as they struggled to mark TFC's attackers in the box.
Although some bumps along the road are to be expected as the Galaxy cope with the loss of Gonzalez, the club is not using his absence as a crutch.
"It's a mentality of knowing that we're not going to get scored on, which is something that we've had in the past and we got to get back to," defender Todd Dunivant said after the Galaxy's match against Toronto on Wednesday. "We’ll see how it plays out. Obviously Omar is a big loss, but we’ve played without him before.
"We’ve done well without him before and we’re going to have to do that again, there’s no doubt about it. We can’t be playing games where we have to score three goals in order to win games. That can’t be the way that we play, and it’s certainly not our intention. We’ll get it right."
If the Galaxy defense can rediscover their mojo without Gonzalez, then a run to the MLS Cup — and perhaps the CONCACAF Champions League final — is well with in Los Angeles' reach.
"We got to make sure that we bring this team together and that they play as a unit," said Arena. "Winning is important to them, and they're hungry to win another championship and that will come in time."