Season Preview: LA Galaxy / by Andrew Olsen

There are few clubs in MLS that are affiliated with distinct "eras." In L.A., you've got Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Ruiz, Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane. A team that has finished first in the Western Conference eight times and only missed the playoffs in three of 17 seasons. The Galaxy are the diamonds of MLS, the staple of the league, and the example of sustained success in this country when it comes to soccer. Think Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and so forth. The LA Galaxy have had the success, the names, and the lineage to be known as one of MLS' first "Superclubs."* LAG-XI

Roster Churn: The Galaxy return 73.1% of their 2013 minutes played (5th in the East, 11th in MLS)

2014 Preview

lag-rosterIII'm not going to lie. The 2013 LA Galaxy we're pretty much boring. Typically one of the top goal scoring clubs, their ability to squash shots before they happen was as important last yearlainfo as the offensive heroics. However, it's foreseeable that the goals against total should have been low, and will be again in 2014.  Not only did LA limit the shot totals, they also did a heckuva job limiting the positions in which their opponents were firing those shots. The Galaxy finished second behind Sporting Kansas City in expected goals allowed last season.

Unfortunately, for most of the year it was Carlo Cudicini who seemingly made mistake after mistake that led to inopportune goals and limited the point total. Sure, it's a convenient narrative to put it all on one person, but blaming the Galaxy's slow starts has merit, and consider the fact that the club played an excess of 48 regular season, post-season, US Open Cup, Champions League and other games during the season (most in MLS). It led to a busy nine months, and very likely thinned the club that already was reduced to bare bones at times.

Fast forward to this off-season; big names have often become synonymous with L.A., as the they have been the team that sets the bar when it comes to spending money and acquiring talent...well  until Tim Leiweke moved to Toronto last summer. Leiweke, who masterminded David Beckham to  the states was the engineer behind Jermain Defoe to Canada this off-season. While Toronto became the big spenders this off-season, L.A. was forced to stand pat with all three of the designated players slots being filled and little available "extra" cash. That may have seemed to bother some people, but not Bruce Arena. Arena took advantage of the off-season to deepen his bench with veterans, raw youth talent  and an unknown from Brazil.

The Backline

Omar Gonzalez, whether you find him overrated or not, is the anchor to this defensive line. Despite the fact that there are still some holes to be filled, especially with the loss of Sean Franklin, the Galaxy took a huge step forward in reinforcing the defense with the discovery of Jaime Penedo last year.

Gonzalez will obviously miss some time with the US National team at the World Cup, so the big questions going forward are whether or not the club can manage the permanent loss of Franklin, and the temporary drop in talent from Gonzalez to whomever else wins that job in roughly the next 88 days. Not that anyone is counting. Even when Gonzo is around, the right outside fullback positions is still an apparent weaknesses, and considering they don't have much depth on the wings going forward, it would appear width could be an issue throughout the roster. I fully expect Todd Dunivant to continue his reign as an unspoken and underappreciated left back in this league.

The Midfield

Bruce Arena was quoted as saying that Landon Donovan will drop into the midfield and, conjecture on my behalf, probably take over the role of Hector Jimenez who has since been traded to Columbus. While this can provide some width, I suspect that he'll almost be seen as a third forward at times as he does get up the pitch and like to cut into the box on runs. Despite being 32, he may still be the top-scoring midfielder in MLS. The club does still have Robbie Rogers, but unfortunately his return to MLS has been rather disappointing, and he's been nowhere near the quality of Mike Magee, for whom he was traded last season.

The new international Baggio Husidić returns to MLS from the Swedish second division club Hammarby IF. A former cog in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Chicago Fire, and a former Generation Adidas midfielder, Husidić is the hope behind the two top central midfield pair in MLS. The blues aren't just about the glitz and the flash, as additions over the last couple of years have displayed grit---a word notorious for its usage in American football, but appropriate here I think. Marcelo Sarvas and his team-mate/Brazilian countrymen Juninho efficiently rock 'n roll in the midfield, and have become what some people refer to as the Galaxy engine room, forcing turnovers and providing quick and smart passes outlets to the wings and up the pitch to create quick opportunities. Adding the Bosnian-American Husidić to that depth is nothing but a good thing at this point for a club that has youth but not much veteran depth.

The Forwards

What did you say about veteran depth?!? Well, let's talk Rob Friend! Friend, a Canadian international with 32 caps to his name, is coming to Hollywood fresh off his loan to 2. Bundesliga club 1860 München, where he put home five goals in 24 matches over the past season and change. It is currently unknown where Friend will fit in, though it will most likely be as a rotating element up front. With Donovan stationed on the left and Gyasi Zardes down the right, the Galaxy will look to Friend to help provide quality depth in the 18, and he may also see legitimate chances to start.

The unknown quantity here is Samuel, yes, ANOTHER undiscovered Brazilian talent found by the scouting staff down in South America. I would imagine that Samuel could be exactly the "right" partnership that Keane needs up top. Fast and versatile. Someone who can drop back into space as well as find the open pockets of space behind the defense that Robbie Keane creates.

And, oh yeah!, Robbie Keane returns for yet another season? Oh, what's that? You can't wait until the end of the year when his contract's up? Well, tough luck. The runner up for 2013 MLS MVP  just signed a two-year extension that will essentially guarantee that he'll still have a Galaxy crest on his chest when eating those senior citizen dinners at Denny's before suiting up on to make your club look stupid.

As someone who loves his deep Irish lineage, I get a bit embarrassed at the thought of Robbie Keane being pretty much the most iconic player from my homeland. Still, I'm unabashedly proud at the incredible things that he does and how he backs up the intense ferocity on the pitch. His 0.64 goals per game since arriving in MLS two years ago is actually the highest goal scoring rate in the league over that period, just edging out Chris Wondolowski at 0.62 goals per game. Our Expected Goals 2.0 data also suggests that Keane scored more than twice as many goals as one would expect from an average player taking the same shots he took. That's good for second in MLS among players with at least 50 shots.

Conclusions

While LA might have taken a slight step back at different points over the last few years, and while they quietly were put down against RSL in the playoffs last November, it's safe to say that Bruce Arena has yet to lose his Midas Touch. The Galaxy are going to be a dominant force next year, one might actually consider LA a quiet contender for the MLS cup. With the flashiness of Seattle, the pop turn of Portland, as well as Kansas City's defensive dominance and New York's offensive juggernaut, L.A. might be playing from the shadows a bit more than usual this season. It would still be surprising for them to finish anywhere outside the top-3 in the Western Conference, and inconceivable for them not to make the playoffs. This is a year that should continue their Yankees-like reign over silverware, and the dominance they've displayed over their three decades of existence will be on full display.

Crowdsourcing Results

A plurality of ASA readers picked the Galaxy to finish second in the West this season (134 of 406 votes; 33%), and an overwhelming majority believe they will make the playoffs in some capacity (384 votes; 94.5%).

*Drew can teach you how to say "Superclub" at minute mark 15:58