With Los Angeles shaping up to be a winter wonderland of DP signings, there may never have been a more crucial time for the Galaxy in terms of determining their identity.
The Galaxy have always been at the forefront of the DP conversation in MLS. The team’s signing of David Beckham was the impetus for the launch of the rule as a whole, and since then the team has, coincidentally or purposefully depending on your level of conspiracy belief, been the benefit of many changes to the rule over the years.
In their long and storied history, the Galaxy have relied heavily on big-name marquee signings of the DP variety. Beginning with Beckham all those years ago and running through many star players such as Juan Pablo Angel, Landon Donovan, and Omar Gonzalez, including 2016’s Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, and Giovani dos Santos, the Galaxy have never shied away from making a splash.
But now, as Keane’s storied five-year tenure with the team comes to an end and Gerrard’s year-and-a-half experiment concludes as well, the Galaxy are at somewhat of a crossroads. After pioneering the big-name, late-career European transplant, the Galaxy have two free DP slots, a bucketful of cash, and a big decision to make. Stick with the old ways that have worked in the past and seen MLS grow tremendously since its humble beginnings? Or join the growing trend, popularized by Toronto FC and Giovinco, and sign a younger, in-his-prime player that can become a focal point for years to come?
In their last two decisions, the Galaxy opted for a bit of a split. Dos Santos represented a player in his prime, but out of form and favor with both club and country at Valencia and Mexico. After three goals and five assists in his 11 appearances in 2015, dos Santos erupted for 15 goals and 13 assists in 30 matches this year for the Galaxy, setting himself up for a bright future with the Galaxy. Gerrard, on the other hand, represented a very old-style MLS signing. An instant-patch, career-winding-down, big-name European star who, as these signings tend to pan out as a whole, was a bit of a mixed bag. While he made his presence felt on occasion, at times the game simply seemed too physical for Gerrard as his aging body struggled to keep up.
Now, with the legendary Keane, who will go down as one of the best DP signings of all time, departing alongside Gerrard, the Galaxy face down the same decision once more. Though it’s easy to believe the lackluster Gerrard saga might put the Galaxy off of signing older players, with names such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimovic potentially on the market, will they be able to resist such tempting options? If they can, the players available in a dos Santos mold, under-performing, unwanted, but still supremely talented, are numerous around the world beyond count.
The Galaxy will have competition, as New York City FC also has a free DP slot, while two expansion teams fill out their rosters as well, but all eyes will be on Los Angeles. While Giovinco makes a strong case for younger DPs, the Galaxy can truly set the bar in terms of the direction of MLS and the types of players other teams sign. With the league less reliant on big-name Europeans than the past, and with the surge of valuable Central and South American talent infused into the league of late, the Galaxy are uniquely positioned to make an impact statement with their signings. But with the specter of an in-market rival in 2018’s expansion team, Los Angeles FC, is on the horizon, the allure of a big-name may be large to ignore.
In a way, it almost feels like 2007 again. A league on the rise undergoing somewhat of a paradigm shift, but this time, the shift is moving away from older DPs and towards a generation of players who will spend their prime on MLS teams. But now, just as it was then, the Galaxy are at the forefront of the DP conversation once more, with their decision perhaps influencing the direction of MLS for years to come.
It’s as they say. As the Galaxy go, so goes the league.