photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports
By FRANCO PANIZO
The LA Galaxy have made a habit in recent years of kicking things into another gear during the second half of their seasons. Like a light switch that they just turn on, the Galaxy tend to find results on a more consistent basis, make a deep playoff run, and usually find a way to lift an MLS Cup trophy when the games get more intense and important.
LA is hoping history repeats itself this season, and there’s undoubtedly a chance of that happening given the star-studded cast that has been assembled out near Hollywood.
You need only to look at the biggest names on LA’s roster to see just how powerful the club can be. Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos, Omar Gonzalez, Gyasi Zardes are players that comprise a championship-level core in MLS, but it is not as if the Galaxy’s talent stops there.
From MLS All-Star Juninho in center midfield to goal-scoring midseason acquisition Sebastian Lletget to reliable veteran defender A.J. DeLaGarza, the Galaxy boast arguably the most talented team in the league right now. Throw in the fact that it is the incomparable and savvy Bruce Arena that is leading the charge and you have a recipe for success.
Still, that is all on paper, and, as we know, matches are not won on paper.
There is no denying that the Galaxy have an envious crop of riches as far as their roster goes.
There’s a star-studded cast befitting of LA, a cast surrounded by a dependable group of role players, a serviceable bench that consists of both proven veterans and promising prospects, and a legendary head coach that seems to know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. By most accounts, the Galaxy are one of the favorites right now to not only make it to the MLS Cup final, but also to win it.
A major challenge does, however, lie ahead for the club in the coming months: Figuring out how to make it all work.
Steven Gerrard has stepped in and – a questionable red card this past weekend aside – has made a real positive impact on the club. He has looked deserving of his Designated Player deal despite being 35-years old, and added another dimension to the Galaxy.
Fitting him in might have come easy, but now Arena needs to figure out how to do the same with Dos Santos. The Mexican international might be better off physically than Gerrard since he is still in his prime at just 26-years old, but where Dos Santos fits in the scheme of things in LA could go a long way to determining how the season pans out.
Make no mistake, Arena and the Galaxy brass has probably gone over this ad nauseam. But talking about it and planning for it is different than executing it, and Dos Santos will need to avoid the type of slow first few months in MLS that other skillful players like Clint Dempsey and Thierry Henry have endured.
Whether the Galaxy completely change their system or alter it slightly to fit Dos Santos remains to be seen, but the latter approach seems most likely given how deep we are into the MLS campaign. Even so, Dos Santos is a player who demands the ball and thrives when he has it as his feet. Keane, while a different kind of player, similarly needs to be on the ball often, and how the two work together and mesh will be something to watch for.
For the Galaxy, there is also the matter of seeing if goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts can still produce on a championship level. The departure of starter Jaime Penedo could prove to be a big hit to the club, but it all depends on how the recently-reacquired Ricketts performs in the Panamanian’s place.
Ricketts, 38, showed this past weekend in his LA return that he might have enough in the tank to help it find the promise land once again. That was just one match, however, and he will surely have his number called upon even more in the coming weeks and months as LA tries to move into the top spot in the competitive Western Conference.
Even with there being question marks with regards to Dos Santos and Ricketts, the Galaxy should still enjoy a strong second half to the MLS campaign. There is enough quality, experience and depth on the squad that LA should have no problem reaching the playoffs. That said, simply making the postseason will not be satisfactory for the Galaxy and their fans.
With a squad like this, the goal is winning another MLS Cup. But not even having the most talented group of players or a strong finish to the regular season can guarantee that.
What do you think about this talented Galaxy team? Are they currently your favorites to win MLS Cup? What will be the biggest challenge the club faces?
Share your thoughts below.