Over a series of posts in the next few days, I hope to take a look at the six teams that did not make the MLS playoffs this year, the L.A. Galaxy, the San Jose Earthquakes, the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, DC United, and Toronto FC and noodle on what needs to be done to get better and move forward for a more successful year next year. Today, I will start with the L.A. Galaxy.
The Galaxy went 8-13-9 this season and had no international competitions that they played in. In 30 games the Galaxy were massivly dominant in teh goal scored department, netting 55 times led by Landon Donovan, the leagues golden boot winner, who found the twine 20 times in 25 appearances for the Galaxy and Edson Buddle, who came in third in goals scored for the Galaxy with 15 goals in 27 appearences. LA scored more goals than any other team, five better even that the Supporter Sheild winners Columbus Crew.
But here is the problem, they allowed more goals than anyone else--62. That is fully eleven more than the next most porous defense, DC United (51) and 30 goals more than the stingiest defense in teh league, Houston (which allowed only 32 goals this year). Certainly, their mid-to-late season winless run made their appearance in the playoffs difficult to impossible. Their June to September run of 12 games and getting only six of a possible 36 points killed their hopes.
Landon Donovan is going to Europe, Bruce Arena has to accept that. Now MLS will probably get a pretty decent transfer fee and L.A. will save some $900,000 of salary cap space. That means that Arena will have some salary cap space, some allocation money and allocation spots to acquire some players that he will need and not have to pay them almost half of his salary cap space.
David Beckham is probably on the verge of dishonoring a contract for the first time in his career. I know a lot of people believe Beckham will come back, but Beckham desperatly wants to play in the 2010 World Cup and he won't be able to impress England manager Fabio Capello in L.A. He can get some playing time with AC Milan (although not much with a squad that boasts Kaka, Ronaldihno and a veritable list of all stars). Thus far Capello has brought Beckham into the England squad for fan appeal, for "leadership" and little else. To stay in the hunt for a World Cup squad spot, Beckham has to be playing better--hence AC Milan. Don't be surprised to see Beckham's loan deal become a purchase deal with a hefty price tag.
So what is Bruce Arena to do with his two name stars heading for the door. First, what does Arena have that is worth something and he can build a squad around.
Here are the players that I think Arena can build a squad around:
Edson Buddle. If Buddle has a year next year similar to the one he had this year, then Arena will probably only have Buddle for another year, two at the max before Buddle finds his way to a European League. So here is the main goal scoring threat for L.A. The problem is that Buddle is more of a poacher than Donovan and doesn't have that creative flair that Donovan brings. Buddle is also not a big guy like Alan Gordon, so is not much of a target striker. Buddle will need a big striker to work off of to be a good threat. But you can't argue with the man's nose for the goal.
Eddie Lewis. Steady Eddie probably has only one year left in his body, but he can provide the necessary leadership. Arena and Lewis know each other well from the U.S. MNT time together and Lewis can be the on-field general for Arena and implement Arena's system from there.
Chris Klein. The MLS iron man looks in good form and has been bombing up and down the touchline with Beckham all season long. Klein is also experienced in this League and can help develop younger players, like:
Sean Franklin. To me Franklin is a contender for rookie of the year. Quite literally thrown to the wolves, Franklin acquitted himself well, earning playing time. However, he has been misused by playing in central defense. It may be time to switch Klein to the center and FRanklin out to the right back and let Franklin use some of that speed he has.
There are other plays, Ante Jazcic, Joe Franchino and Brandon McDonald that have proven their worth on occaisions and will be helpful in building a team.
Healthy, these seven players can provide a solid core for Arena. But Arena is hurting all over the place and unless he is ready for wholesale roster changes (and I think he might be), here are the three areas he needs to focus on, no suprises though--the focus will have to be on the spine of the team, right down the middle.
Goalkeeping. Arena needs two everyday goalkeepers. Steven Cronin is not it. Josh Wicks is not a bad backup, but I don't know if he has the chops to play every week. So who is Arena going to get. My money is on Matt Pickens. Pickens played for the Chicago Fire and spent some time with Queen's Park Rangers in the English Championship League before being released back in May. The 26 year old Missouri native is currently unattached and has the experience necessary to command the box and run a defense.
Central Defense. Even with Franklin and Klein in the back line, Arena is going to need a strong, commanding central defender. Arena is probably going to have to go outside the MLS to find one, probably in South America or Africa. What Arena will need is a player with size, speed and most importantly experience, who has the personality to direct a defense. Since defensive cohesion, shape and compactness are at the core of Arena's style, this is will probably be the most important off-season job for Arena. In all likelihood, he will need two of these players. If Arena gets two good central defenders, I would see which of Kleing and Franklin have a good left foot crossing and put these two on the outside back positions.
Central midfield. Arena needs two central midfielders, a playmaker, someone who can control the pace of the game, dictate the attack and create, create, create for the Galaxy; and a holding midfielder. L.A. has been without such a player for some time, and no Beckham is not that guy. Arena needs a holding midfielder because, let's face it, the Galaxy need all the defensive help they can get. Christian Gomez from Colorado might be a good target, since he is not getting anytime with the Rapids and could fill either role, although I think he is more of a playmaker. As far as a defensive midfielder, I think Arena needs to look for someone like Pablo Mastoeni, whose contract is over for Colorado. The problem is that mastroeni is looking to close out his career in Europe. Yes, he is a little old for such a transfer, but a solid Serie B team might be a destination.
Ives Galarcep suggested prayer and I can't disagree with that notion. But next year is a rebuilding year for L.A. and any thoughts otherwise are dreams at best. Can L.A. make the playoffs next year? Yes, but not until they close up the defensive holes.