By OMAR SHAMOUT
The LA Galaxy are looking to become the first “three-peat” winners of the MLS Cup during the 2013 season.
The Galaxy started 2012 in anything but championship form, and the team will be hoping that an offseason free of overseas tours provided adequate time for rest and recovery after a grueling stretch run. The team struggled to find defensive solidity in the absence of Omar Gonzalez early last year, but the back line should be more stable this time around.
The lack of a star Designated Player to replace David Beckham shouldn’t be too much of a concern for fans. There are plenty of midfielders chomping at the bit to carve out a starting role in Bruce Arena’s starting lineup, and many of the candidates, including Colin Clark and Hector Jimenez, impressed in the preseason.
Of bigger concern is the late return of 30-year old forward Landon Donovan. Midfielder Mike Magee will fill in up front in Donovan’s absence, but previous performances, and comments by head coach Bruce Arena, suggest Magee is probably better suited as wide player. Once again, it might prove difficult for the Galaxy to carry the momentum of a championship season into the following year due to the temporary loss of a key player. But they still pose a formidable threat in all areas of the pitch.
Here is a closer look at the Los Angeles Galaxy heading into the 2013 season:
2012 FINISH: 16-12-6, fourth in Western Conference
KEY ACQUISITIONS: GK Carlo Cudicini, M Juninho (permanent transfer), M Colin Clark, F Gyasi Zardes, D Oscar Sorto
KEY LOSSES: M David Beckham, GK Josh Saunders, F Edson Buddle, M/F Christian Wilhelmsson
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: F Gyasi Zardes – Galaxy fans will probably have to wait until April to see the team’s newest Homegrown talent take the pitch at the Home Depot Center due to a metatarsal injury suffered in preseason. It’s terrible timing too, since the late arrival of Landon Donovan would have given Zardes a great opportunity to fight for a starting spot early in the campaign. But Arena is counting on Zardes’ size, speed and technical ability to help fill the gap at forward after the departures of Edson Buddle and Christian Wilhelmsson.
THE PRESSURE IS ON: M Colin Clark - Clark seems to have earned the starting left midfield role vacated by Christian Wilhelmsson.The ex-Houston Dynamo player will need to establish himself quickly if he hopes to retain the job with capable replacements waiting in the wings such as Michael Stephens, Hector Jimenez and rookie Greg Cochrane and Mike Magee, once the latter moves back to midfield when Landon Donovan returns to the lineup. Clark only started six matches for Houston last year, though he made 14 appearances. He should have the opportunity to improve on his tally of one goal and 0 assists last year, and he’ll need to.
OUTLOOK: You may have heard that David Beckham is no longer playing for the Galaxy, and his seven goals and five assists will be missed in midfield during league play. The end of the superstar’s six-year stint in MLS led to rumors of another Designated Player arriving from Europe, with Frank Lampard and Kaka the most mentioned names, but no one arrived. Coupled with the loss of starter Christian Wilhelmsson, the midfield is probably the biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season, though the permanent signing of Juninho will go a long way toward easing the transition. Look for the Brazilian central midfielder to improve on his seven goals and four assists last year. Colin Clark, Hector Jimenez, Michael Stephens, Rafael Garcia, Marcelo Sarvas, plus rookies Andy Riemer and Greg Cochrane will all be fighting for minutes alongside him. And don’t count out another big-name signing once the European transfer market opens this summer.
Another issue heading into the season is who will partner Omar Gonzalez in central defense? The most likely candidate is A.J. DeLaGarza, who held the job before injuring his knee last October, keeping him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Tommy Meyer proved to be a capable replacement, and Arena will have to decide how best to deploy DeLaGarza, who can play anywhere along the back four. The return of Brazilian Leonardo gives the head coach even more to think about. Bryan Gaul had a solid preseason at left back and provides nice cover for Todd Dunivant. Sean Franklin will likely keep his starting job at right back. Behind them, veteran Premier League goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini should provide strong leadership and dependable play.
The forward roster is another one in flux for the Galaxy. With Landon Donovan set to miss the first six to eight weeks of the season following his sabbatical, the team will be relying heavily on Robbie Keane to carry much of the scoring burden. Keane netted 22 goals in all competitions last year, and there’s little to suggest he’s about to slow down any time soon. Mike Magee will partner Keane most of the time until Donovan returns, so Arena is counting on him to improve on his five goals and four assists in the 2012 regular season. Youngsters such as United States U-20 phenom Jose Villarreal, Gyasi Zardes and Jack McBean are looking to stake their claim as well. Rookie Charlie Rugg might even earn some playing time early on if things don’t go as planned.
Despite the losses of Beckham, Wilhelmsson, Saunders and Buddle, and the lack of a glamour signing in the offseason, the Galaxy still possess tremendous depth and experience. They have all the tools necessary to make another run at a championship, though the Western Conference is loaded with tough competition. If the delayed return of Landon Donovan causes hiccups early on, the team might not be able to recover in as glorious a fashion as it did following last year’s slow start.