Guest Blog by Max Colantoni (@MColantoni10)
After a disappointing first-round departure from the playoffs in 2015, the Los Angeles Galaxy aims to get back into championship form for the upcoming year. 2015 was a roller coaster ride for Los Angeles; their record in home matches was good for second best in the MLS (12-2-3.) On the flip side, The Galaxy were a league worst at 2-9-6 away from the StubHub Center.
On the heels of a dazzling season from the 2014 MLS MVP Robbie Keane, many questions still remain surrounding the team’s other strikers. Giovani dos Santos arrived from Villarreal in August to provide another quality option for Galaxy boss Bruce Arena. Gyasi Zardes once again showed signs of brilliance with nine goals and five assists across all competitions. Zardes’ goal production took a dip after the arrival of Giovani dos Santos after Arena used him mainly on the right flank. Dos Santos scored four goals and finished with seven assists across all competitions in thirteen games with the Galaxy. Dos Santos and Keane look to lead the attack for the Galaxy once again in 2016. Last year, Bruce Arena also saw flashes of promise from some of his young talent, players like Ignacio Maganto, Bradford Jamieson IV, Raul Mendiola, and Jose Villarreal, all of whom scored at least once in 2015. Alan Gordon also shined last season with 11 goals throughout the year, remaining Arena’s first choice as an attacking substitution. Free agent, Mike Magee, returns to Los Angeles after playing two years in Chicago, making 51 appearances and scoring 22 goals from 2013-2015. He looks to provide depth and another goal scoring threat for Arenas. Twenty-two-year-old, Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng, also joined the attack corps in January as a free agent, having spent the last two years in Sweden with Helsingborg’s IF. Arenas hopes he can find goal scoring chances, off the bench, providing a fiery boost in attack. Although Boateng tallied only four goals in 37 appearances from 2013-2015 with Helsingborg, he looks to learn some good technique from veterans Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos this season.
When the LA Galaxy’s midfield was at full strength, they were one of best groups in Major League Soccer. But because of countless injuries and international call-ups, Galaxy head coach, Bruce Arena, had to mix up his midfield for a majority of the season. The Galaxy found a bit of success after the arrival of English midfielders Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget. With Gerrard in the center alongside Juninho, as well as Lletget and Gyasi Zardes manning the wings, the Galaxy midfield helped the team to a league best 6-1-0 record in August. After only scoring once in 2014, Juninho rediscovered his scoring ways with four goals and eight assists across all competitions, all while playing in a team high of 37 games. On December 24, 2015 Juninho transferred to Tijuana and will play in Liga Mexicana in 2016. This is obviously a big blow to the midfield and undoubtedly spurred the signing of Dutch midfielder, Nigel De Jong, from A.C. Milan. De Jong will step into a central midfield role and use his veteran leadership skills to motivate his younger Galaxy teammates. Another veteran, free agent midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, joins the Galaxy after two seasons with Chicago and looks to play the central defending midfield role this season. Expectations will be high for the Galaxy’s midfield for the 2016 season. Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget will have a full pre-season with the club, and will surely be expected to produce much more than they did in their first season. Starting the season together should only help the team’s newcomers gel and hopefully allow the Galaxy to create the same form they enjoyed in 2014.
Defensively, in 2015, the Galaxy showed their true weaknesses. Countless mistakes and miscommunications made coach Bruce Arenas shake up his defensive formations. This, along with lack of discipline, led to one of the worst defensive displays in recent memory for the Galaxy. Omar Gonzalez and Dan Gargan once again led the defensive corps. Brazilian defender Leonardo was by far the Galaxy’s most consistent defender. Leonardo showed his stout ability to take on offenders in one-on-one situations. He was named the Galaxy’s defensive player of the year and looks to continue his good form in 2016. Veteran Englishman, Ashley Cole, joins the Galaxy defending corps after transferring from AS Roma over the winter and gives the Galaxy a veteran defenseman with plenty of European and international experience. He is tasked to fill the shoes of Omar Gonzalez who is on his way to Pachuca. Another Belgium international joins the Galaxy in Jelle Van Damme. Van Damme, another veteran, looks to provide another defensive option for Arenas this year. He has played the last five seasons with Standard Liege making 205 appearances with the squad in that span. Left back Robbie Rogers showed that his 2014 campaign was no accident as he had another strong season in 2015. Despite being a defender for less than a year, Rogers led all left backs in MLS with 75 interceptions. But his finest moment came on June 25th when he scored his first goal for the Galaxy during the club’s Pride Night. Concentration lapses weren’t the only issue for the Galaxy’s defense, as the club also suffered from a bunch of injuries. No defender was more struck by the injury bug than right back A.J. DeLaGarza. A foot injury sidelined the defender in the preseason, causing him to miss out on his usual starting role in the club’s first three matches. This wasn’t DeLaGarza’s only injury, however, as the defender also dealt with a groin injury that eventually required surgery at season’s end. Although DeLaGarza recovered to make 28 appearances across all competitions, the versatile defender was unable to regain the form that he enjoyed a year ago.
Now, about the messes in between the posts - the goalkeepers. No position drew more scrutiny in 2015 for the LA Galaxy than goalkeeper, the year can simply be defined by two distinct moments. First, was the mid-year loss of Jaime Penedo, who cited family reasons for his departure. Penedo never signed with another team and expressed regret when asked about the situation months later. Los Angeles turned to a familiar face as they brought back Jamaican international goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts, from Orlando City. Ricketts played well in his 14 appearances, but his air-headed mistakes in the playoffs ultimately led to The Galaxy’s demise. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has not stated that the club will dismiss Ricketts, but with the 38-year-old goalkeeper out of contract, it doesn’t look promising for the Jamaican’s future. With Ricketts expected to move on, Arena must find himself a new starting goalkeeper. Multiple media reports have said that the Galaxy could bring back Penedo, but that doesn’t look likely with the additions of Dan Kennedy and Clement Diop. Kennedy only made 16 appearances with Dallas last year and will probably mentor up-and-coming Diop, who was signed from Galaxy II. In the 2015 season, Diop won the USL Western Conference and reached the USL Championship final with LA Galaxy II. On December 16 2015, LA Galaxy announced they had signed Diop to a first team contract for the forthcoming MLS season.
In 2016 the new look Galaxy have their sights set on another MLS Cup win. After the departures of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, and Juninho, the squad needs to be able to gel together again. Often times when teams take on new players, there is a lack of much needed chemistry on the pitch. Coach Bruce Arena said in an interview with SI.com: “Clubs have a lot of autonomy. They really do. You get to choose your own players. If you want to get Designated Players, you can. I’m sure the collective bargaining will give a little bit more freedom as well. But I think the notion that the league runs teams and tells you how you can spend and who’s on your team and who’s not is not accurate. However, at a local level you should have more freedom and responsibility in developing your roster. There’s still room to improve there.”
Our projected starting eleven shows a flurry of talented new and familiar faces. With Keane, dos Santos, and Zardes leading the attack. De Jong, Gerrard, and Lletget in the midfield. Robbie Rodgers playing a defensive minded midfielder, with Leonardo, Cole, and De La Garza holding up the defensive corps. As of today, Veteran Dan Kennedy would most likely start in goal for Los Angeles.