Big Money Issues
Here's the deal, the Los Angeles Galaxy after two straight MLS Cup wins have found themselves for the first time since 2007 without David Beckham on the roster and Landon Donovan overworking himself on the field.
"Ohh, NOO! What is we gonna do, without Beckham?" Listen people, there is nothing to worry about from an on field perspective. As a Galaxy supporter I myself was worried at first for the sake of the league when Beckham left for PSG and Donovan had a mental breakdown. Over the course of the Beckham era the LA Galaxy had become the poster boys of the League, they have raised the stature of the league to finally surpass the Scottish Premier League, with the exception of Celtic (which is too good for the SPL graveyard).
Sure there are major concerns for not having the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star on the roster. No longer does the Galaxy have a player who can score from corner kicks and have every eye on him in the midfield just so that players can stare at him (because they either are fans or attracted to him). During Beckham's stay in LA the league found the Galaxy being the big ticket showcase for their local clubs, for instance last season San Jose Earthquakes (55 K), Toronto FC (44 K), Seattle Sounders (62 K), and Montreal Impact (57 K) all had massive crowds appear for the Galaxy game and had to either get a special stadium or open up not usually used sections to accommodate. The Galaxy can be the main credit for the noticeable rise in league attendance, with Beckham being a big part of it.
With Beckham no longer on the field the biggest worry for the league isn't the Galaxy dropping in the talent pool but the drop in jersey, merchandise, and ticket sales they will most likely notice. For instance I twice tried to get a Beckham jersey and both times they were sold out. This drop is the main reason why MLS and LA are looking to find the next big DP, which is a main reason why Designated Player contracts are partially paid by every team in the league, because these players hold name value amongst fans.
However, Beckham's on field presence overall isn't to be totally missed. He had the hair and the body and that sexy British accent, but he had trouble with turf fields (on which 3 Western Conference teams play on at home), he was hungry and always hustling but he didn't have the speed to always give him the advantage needed.
Last year the Galaxy made plans to cover for the eventual departure of Beckham. They brought in holding midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who plays a solid job of holding up and doubling back to keep the midfield in balance. Next, the Galaxy finally bought the contract of Juninho and had him practice alongside Beckham on how to take free kicks and corners effectively - which if you look back at last season, Juninho scored 6 times from outside of 23m. Look at the Galaxy today they have a solid situation with Sarvas and Juninho in the central midfield, the two boys have a solid partnership and chemistry together that is very special to watch. Beckham's face and presence is missed but the quality is covered on the field.
The next issue is about Landon Donovan, the long time Galaxy captain, who had a mental breakdown and needed 4 months off from soccer. Donovan's departure ends at the end of this very month as he is to report back to training on March 30th. His absence is noticed, after all, he is suave, creative, has a great relationship with Irish captain Robbie Keane, and just knows what to do in every situation on the field. Former Everton star Donovan has always been the real deal. But how are the Galaxy fairing without him right now? Well they're just fine.
Bruce Arena is a tactical genius with his players. What he decided to do was now that he has Brazilian defender Leonardo healthy and playing strong, he moved him into the starting center back role alongside 6'5ft terror Omar Gonzalez. Next he took left center back A.J. Delagarza and moved him to the position of right back, which the Galaxy uses on the overlap of the attack often. Now that just leaves Sean Franklin who has since joining LA has played the right back spot. Arena moved Franklin to the right midfielder spot (one of the places Donovan usually played). Franklin always plays the overlap game and has solid speed so the move to the right back spot really wasn't a big jump of confusion to him and the Galaxy have a solid defensive line and fixed midfield.
Now I know what you're asking where is Donovan at when he comes back? He'll most likely once fully fit go up top and play a right forward position next to Irishman Robbie Keane. Simply because even though the bench options for LA at the second forward spot are all solid young standouts it is the weakest spot on the lineup that Donovan can effectively play. When he returns I doubt anything can stop this squad from becoming the first MLS team to three-peat at the MLS Cup. However, that won't be the case for about another month or so due to possible fitness issues that may arise.
The Big Change (Smell the Cup)
I as a watchful student of MLS believe that the Galaxy will three-peat the MLS Cup and find themselves winning other major trophies even without Beckham and Donovan at the start of the season, because of mainly one signing, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.
Last season the Galaxy had Josh Saunders between the pipes. Now if you look at the overall records of the league, Saunders will look like one of the best of the league's history guarding the net, when actually it was mainly the talent of his defense that gave him solid defensive numbers. Saunders as a talent was a second tier MLS goalie, and rightly so. The best goalies in MLS, Nielson of Sporting KC, Gspurning of Seattle, and Rimando of RSL all have that extra step it seems in their reactions to shots, but most importantly, they don' t make gaffs that lead to goals.
This season in former Tottenham and Chelsea No1 Cudicini they have a goalie that gets LA back to have a top tier goalie in the league. He can make the saves and doesn't have slippery fingers, and is confident in his choices, something Saunders never really had in his movement. Cudicini is okay with taking the ball at his feet and moving around the box under pressure, while Saunders at times would seem timid. Cudicini is going to finish the season with an amazing goals-against-average, and will be a solid reason as to why the Galaxy will once again hoist a major trophy during this season. The only question with Cudicini is how many more years does he have as a player. He's 39 years old, but then again he is a goalkeeper, and being he's a former teammate of Brad Friedel, I don't he sees retirement in the near future.
Attendance numbers might not be as high for Galaxy games at first but I believe even with Donovan absent from the lineup the Galaxy are a well built machine that have all the right pieces to win trophies as they have a habit of doing, after all they are the poster boys for the MLS, even though Seattle Sounders have double the average attendance. Thank you Beckham for all your service of the ball, and ability to fill stadiums but the Galaxy will be doing fine without you.
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