March is here and that means another First Kick and the start of the MLS season. Fresh off a disappointing season by LA standards, the boys from Carson look to improve upon last season's start that saw the team go 3-8-2 and crash out of last year's CONCACAF Champions League to lowly Toronto FC. The Galaxy start off this season with back-to-back games vs. Real Salt Lake in league play and a home and away to Xolos of Liga MX in CCL quarterfinals. But with any preseason come changes and this year's Galaxy is no exception to the rule. So far 10 players have left the Galaxy including starter Sean Franklin and much-maligned GK Carlo Cucidini. So who plugs in the holes of the players moving on? Let's find out.
What normally was a constant on Arena's team over the last four season may end up being the most volatile part of the team this year. the afore-mentioned Sean Franklin has now signed with DC after his option was declined by the team and both Bryan Gaul and Greg Cochrane, players who were thought to have been next in line on the depth chart, have left the team as well. Todd Dunivant is still recovering from a hamstring injury and hopes to be back in time for the season opener on March 8th. Veteran James Riley has been signed to plug in on both ends of the flanks and could easily start in Dunivant's place if he's not healthy in time.
Players In: James Riley (released by DCU, signed by LAG), Kyle Venter (SuperDraft)
Players Out: Bryan Gaul (waived), Greg Cochrane (traded to Chicago Fire), Sean Franklin (Option declined, drafted by DCU in first round of Re-Entry draft)
Players Returning – A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, Tommy Mayer, Oscar Sorto, Kofi Opare.
The Galaxy's midfield, like the majority of the team, underperformed last year. While Marcelo Sarvas was a rock in central midfield for LA, his Brazilian counterpart Juninho did not live up to the offensive expectations he set in his previous season with LA. A lot of that does have to do with Sarvas' success in the middle last year but Juninho will need to do more to provide service and creativity in central midfield. The biggest question in the midfield for the Galaxy will be the left and right side of the field. Will Landon Donovan be asked to assume his left midfield duties after a stint at second forward with Robbie Keane? Who will claim the right midfield position between the newcomers Baggio Husidic, Stefan Ishizaki and returning players Robbie Rogers and Gyasi Zardes. Being able to stretch the attack will be key in helping to alleviate pressure on the defense so whoever steps in on the right side must be able to produce early.
Players In: Baggio Husidic, Stefan Ishizaki
Players Out: Hector Jimenez (traded to Columbus Crew), Kyle Nakazawa (retired), Pablo Mastroeni (retired), Michael Stephens (option declined, signed with Stabaek FC in Norway), Colin Clark (option declined), Laurent Courtois (LA Galaxy II Player-coach)
Returning Players: Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Landon Donovan, Robbie Rogers, Kenny Walker, Rafael Garcia
Robbie Keane will be expected to score the bulk of the Galaxy's goals this season but who will partner alongside him is anyone's guess. However, one name you can expect not to partner with Keane at length this year is Landon Donovan. Landon will more than likely be back in the midfield with new signings Samuel and Rob Friend fighting for the second forward spot. Rob Friends brings height, physicality and experience (Bruce's favorite catchword) to the front line while Samuel hopes to bring a little more Brazilian magic to the Galaxy while on loan from Fluminense. Bolstering the forward corps are two newly signed Homegrown players Bradford Jamieson and Raul Mendiola as well as possible candidate Gyasi Zardes, who will probably slot back in to a right midfield position.
Players In: Bradford Jamieson (Homegrown Player) , Raul Mendiola (Homegrown Player), Rob Friend (signed from Eintracht Frankfurt), Samuel (on loan from Fluminense)
Players Out: Jose Villarreal (Loaned to Cruz Azul)
Returning Players: Gyasi Zardes, Charlie Rugg, Chandler Hoffman, Jack McBean, Robbie Keane,
In a classic case of addition by subtraction, Carlo Cucidini is no longer with the team. The man who replaced him midseason, Jaime Penedo, has made the number one spot his own during his time last season. His signing helped bolster the team as a whole with his quick reflexes and game sense.. Returning veterans Brian Perk and Brian Rowe round out the Galaxy GK pool.
Players In: None
Players Out: Carlo Cucidini
Returning Players: Jaime Penedo, Brian Perk, Brian Rowe.
The Galaxy's success over the last 3 seasons has been the envy of many clubs in MLS. Back-to-back MLS Cups and a Supporters Shield look nice in a trophy room but as last season showed, it isn't guaranteed. The Galaxy re-tooled in every area and the argument could be made that they have gotten better in almost every facet. The real question is if the Galaxy can hit the ground running and not repeat last season's defensive lapses towards the end of the game. They have the motivation and talent. It's a question of "Will it all come together?"
(image courtesy of lagalaxy.com)