Here in LA
We’re the greatest of all
We love women and beer
It’s the only way to live
Club Founded: 1996
Record: 13 Wins- 10 Losses- 5 Draws (4th Place in the Western Conference.)
Pedigree: 4-time MLS Cup Champions (2002, 2005, 2011, and 2012,) 4-time winner of the Supporter’s Shield (club that has the best record at the end of the MLS regular season- 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2011) 2-time U.S. Open Cup Champion (2001 and 2005,) winner of the 2000 CONCACAF Champions League
Rivals: San Jose Earthquakes (California Classico,) Chivas U.S.A, pretty much the rest of the league.
Coach: Bruce Arena
Supporter Groups: The L.A. Riot Squad, the Angel City Brigade, the Galaxians
Key Returning Players: DEF Omar Gonzalez, MF Juninho, MF Landon Donovan. FWD Jack McBean, FWD Robbie Keane
Major Additions: GK Carlo Cudicini (Tottenham Hotspur,) GK Jaime Penedo (C.S.D. Municipal-Honduras,) DEF Robbie Rogers (Leeds United-England,) MF Colin Clark (Houston Dynamo,) and MF Laurent Courtois (Chivas U.S.A.)
Major Departures: GK Josh Saunders (Colorado Rapids) MF David Beckham (Paris St. Germain,) FWD Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids,) and FWD Mike Magee
Full disclosure: I actually like watching the Galaxy play. Now before you paint me as a Laker-loving Dodger devotee, I still cannot stand most things about the city of Los Angeles. Perhaps it is watching too much of the Kardashians, or listening to comedian Adam Carolla’s rants on the Los Angeles County Public School system, but I have never wanted to go to Los Angeles. Unless it is to watch a Galaxy match.
Many things have changed since I watched the first MLS Cup final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United. The Kansas City Wiz are now called the Wizards. Clocks move forward instead of backwards. Supporters have replaced soccer moms. But the one thing that has remained consistent through the league’s history is the quality of play that they have brought every season.
Since the league’s inception, the Galaxy has only missed the playoffs three times in their existence (2006-2008.) In addition, the club has made the MLS Cup 8 times, winning 4. Although it is easy to knock them for their success, and some of the questionable methods from which they have acquired their players, let’s give credit where credit is due: their success has been remarkable.
While I am sure AEG, the company that owns the Los Angeles Galaxy, would like to take full credit for their success I would like to commend their coach Bruce Arena. Having watched him coach since his days at the University of Virginia, one cannot be anything but impressed with his coaching success. He is someone who runs a tight ship, who is able to get players who have massive egos to work together, and plays a style that is aggressive and engaging. His imprint on this team can be seen with the younger players, as well as the veteran ones.
A team that always looks to make the big splash, the Los Angeles Galaxy were actually quite quiet this past offseason with their only major addition coming in the form of Carlo Cudicini, the Italian goalkeeper at the bottom of Tottenham’s depth chart. Although I am sure the club would have liked to have signed the likes of Frank Lampard, Kaka, or even Andrei Arshavin, the best moves that they made were promoting their younger players to more prominent roles. Players like Forward Gyasi Zardes, Forward Jack McBean, and Forward Jose Villareal have all played prominent roles with the team this season. The trio has logged a combined 2910 minutes this season and scored 6 goals.
Although their three young players have been exceptional this season, this is a team that rides and dies with its three designated players: Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan. Before this season, it would have just been Keane and Donovan, but Gonzalez has come back so well from the torn ACL that he suffered last season that his work merits recognition. He is a tall, strong defender who always seemed to lack some of the judgment skills that are important in becoming a top defender.
You could see the improvement in the May U.S. World Cup Qualifying match between the United States and Mexico, he seemed to be more aware of his surroundings and was able to make crisper passes and clears to his teammates. He is paired up with some quality veteran defenders in Sean Franklin, Todd Dunavant, and A.J. DeLaGarza. DeLa Garza, in particular, has been a major asset for the Galaxy because he has exceptional dribbling abilities and has no problem driving the ball down the field, and tossing in a long cross to the likes of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.
With Robbie Keane, the thing that you first notice when you watch him play is his tenacity. He never stops on any play, and has no problem getting physical with defenders. Part of the problem that American forwards have is that they lack this skill. Sure, he is one of the best shooters in the league and can be extremely accurate on goal (13 goals, 24 shots on goal.) But what makes him so much better than everyone else is that he works on every play. The run and finish that he made against the Portland Timbers on August the 27th to me is one of the best goals of the year because of the work that went in to making the goal.
Donovan, an MLS and United States Men’s National Team legend, has been critical to the development of soccer in this country. Earlier in the season, I wondered when he did come back from his self-imposed exile in Cambodia if he would still be interested in playing. I was not expecting him to be the same player that he was when he was 22, but I was concerned that he had just lost interest in the game. The man has had an immense amount of pressure on him for many years to be the face of American soccer.
That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by his performance in recent weeks for the Galaxy. Although he does not have the speed that he once possessed, his passing and decision-making is as strong as ever. I have always liked the connection that Donovan and Keane have with one another. In the August 17th match against Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy were able to pick apart a strong RSL defense mainly because Donovan was able to feed Keane balls in the box that on a top class player can get to. Donovan still has his shot as well: in only 17 matches this season he has 8 goals and 16 shots on goal.
The problems that Donovan has had, speaks of a larger problem that this team has. There seem to be two Galaxy teams: the one that plays when Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez play and the one that plays when one or all three are out. Now you could say the same thing about any team if they were to lose their players due to injury or international duty. But, this seems to be a greater problem for the Galaxy. In the last two matches against the Colorado Rapids and D.C. United this team has looked flat. Without their three designated players for last Saturday’s match, and with all three coming back from international duty (and Landon Donovan out with an injury) they did not have the same sense of urgency or flair to take care of two winnable games. You look at teams like Portland, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle and you see squads that are 13 or 14 players deep.
You could also see the difference in the 5-0 drubbing the team took against the New England Revolution earlier this season. Though their younger players have played well when being second fiddle to the Big Three, they still need to step up when Keane, Donovan, and Gonzalez are not all available. In particular, I would like to see more out of Jose Villareal. A fast winger, he should have been able to pick apart a pourous D.C. United defense on Saturday. Instead, the club drew against an opponent that they should have demolished and lost points in the standings.
While players like Defender Todd Dunavant, Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, and Midfielder Collin Clarke are quality role players they cannot run a team by themselves. Although the Galaxy almost always makes good player moves, I think that they regret trading Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire for Robbie Rogers earlier this season. Magee is a player that may not be a regular in the U.S. National Team, but he is an exceptional striker (20 goals this season) and he can provide leadership to the younger players when their main players are out. You can certainly see his mark on a young Fire squad as they are making their way to the playoffs. Although they play different positions, the addition of Defender Pablo Mastroeni seems to be an acknowledgment that this team needs a stronger veteran presence on the team.
They also have to figure out what they are going to do at goalkeeper. To say that the Carlo Cudicini signing has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Although the club has only given up 36 goals this season (which ties them for 10th in the league) Cudicini has a Goals Against Average of 1.29 which is sixth highest among starting goalkeepers. While at first I thought it was just rust (he had not played in a match for Tottenham in at least 3 years,) it seems like his confidence is just shot. In their August 24th match against F.C. Dallas, Cudicini was not able to make simple stops on both goals by Dallas and was bailed out on numerous other shots by the Los Angeles Galaxy defense.
Although he has been benched, their other two goalkeepers, Brian Rowe and Jaime Penedo have also not looked suspect. I think Penedo will eventually settle into the role fine. Having watched him closely during the 2013 Gold Cup, he is someone that will take control of this team when necessary, and improve their movement from the back. However, it is very late in the season to be making a change like this. A team’s success largely depends on chemistry and consistency. There is no position greater that requires this skill than the goalkeeper position. Although I think the trade is an upgrade for the position, I am just not sure if now is the time to be adding a goalkeeper from outside the organization and making them your starter.
If the Galaxy are to repeat they are going to have to improve their work on the road. During the 2013 season, the Galaxy have allowed 27 goals on the road and 3 have wins, 8 losses, and 3 draws. And while the Galaxy have been very good at home, they have shown that they can be beaten at the Home Depot Center by the likes of the Colorado Rapids. In a Western Conference that is loaded with exceptionally strong teams like the Rapids, Real Salt Lake, and the Seattle Sounders the Galaxy are going to have to show the temerity on the road that they have shown at home.
If the Galaxy are going to do what no Major League Soccer team has ever done and win three consecutive MLS Cups, they are going to have to learn how to play better on the road, to get better performances out of their role players, and find an answer at goalkeeper. The good news is that the club features three of the best players in Major League Soccer in Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez. The bad news is that if any of the three players receives an injury, or if they have a poor performance then this team may have some difficulties in making back to the finals.
Beer of Choice: Firestone Double Barrel Ale, Firestone Brewing Company. To watch a Galaxy match, you need a drink that has a bit of a smooth taste to it, but a good kick. With a high scoring offense, and a defense that is renowned for either being great or terrible, the Double Barrel Ale can either go well with a five goal drubbing or a 5-4 slugfest.