MLS Season Preview: Galaxy hope veterans lead team to glory

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After bidding farewell to two of the team's key players from the past few years, the Galaxy added experience they hope will help them back to MLS Cup.

If there’s one thing the LA Galaxy have heading into 2016, it’s experience.

It starts at the top. Coach Bruce Arena coached D.C. United to the first two MLS Cups and has led the Galaxy to three.

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But in 2015 the team fell short. It was a busy offseason, one which saw the Galaxy part ways with center back Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Juninho to get in line with MLS’ roster regulations. But through shrewd negotiation from Arena, who is also the team’s general manager, and his staff, the team quickly retooled.

Two players with long careers playing in Europe but out of favor at their clubs arrived with defender Ashley Cole and midfielder Nigel de Jong joining. Arena also brought in Jelle Van Damme to fill the center-back role vacated by Gonzalez’s move to Pachuca. The team traded for goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and also brought in MLS veterans Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz.

Those six players, all older than 30, add to a team already featuring 35-year-olds in midfielder Steven Gerrard and forward Robbie Keane.

You can see that as a lot of older players, players who may have lost a step or two. Or you can see it as a wealth of experience to draw upon.

"I think there’s a couple things working in our favor," Kennedy told Goal USA. "Even though we have some new faces, and there’s going to be a little bit of transition, all these guys played a lot of games before, so that’ll make it a little bit easier than if it was the case where there was a bunch of younger players."

The Galaxy veterans still have some youth to whom they can impart wisdom. The team signed 24-year-old Gyasi Zardes to a contract extension Thursday and also brought in Emmanual Boateng, a 22-year-old Ghanaian who may line up opposite Zardes on the wing. Sebastian Lletget, 23, is another wide option for Arena.

With Keane not slowing down - the Irishman's 20 goals in the 2015 regular season was one more than he scored in 2014 - and Dos Santos coming off his first preseason with the team, the Galaxy forward line is sure to challenge MLS defenses. The pair didn't always work together particularly well, though, and Dos Santos could play in the midfield with Zardes moving up top to partner with Keane if the chemistry doesn't spark after an offseason of training together.

The more concerning spot for LA is farther back. In the middle, Gerrard and De Jong are likely to play together, with the Galaxy hoping an enforcer like the Dutchman can help put less pressure on the center backs than they felt last year.

"I think Nigel gives a good presence in the midfield defensively," Arena said after the first leg of the team's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal with Santos Laguna. "Van Damme is obviously a physical player. Dan Kennedy has shown why we wanted him here. He is coming out of a preseason in good form and hopefully he can keep pushing forward.  We have the makings of a good team. We certainly have to get better in every area, but it is early."

The Galaxy will definitely need time to gel, and the CCL quarterfinal resulted in a set back when Santos ran away with the tie thanks to a 4-0 win in the second leg. 

“This was a rude awakening," DeLaGarza told reporters after the match. “We’ll see what we’re made of on Sunday.”

That's when the LA Galaxy begin the quest to become the first MLS team to lift six MLS Cups. The experience is there. The talent is there. Will it blend?

LA GALAXY SEASON PREVIEW

2015 FINISH: Fifth in Western Conference (14-11-9), eliminated in knockout round

NOTABLE ADDITIONS: M Nigel de Jong, D Ashley Cole, GK Dan Kennedy, D Jelle Van Damme, M-F Emmanuel Boateng, M Mike Magee, M Jeff Larentowicz

NOTABLE LOSSES: D Omar Gonzalez, M Juninho, D Dan Gargan

TOP NEWCOMER: Nigel de Jong. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas formed the central midfield in the Galaxy's 2014 MLS Cup title run. The Brazilian will be missed by the Galaxy, but they won't feel his departure as accutely if De Jong is able to reproduce some of the form that made him a regular at Ajax, Hamburger, Manchester City and the Dutch national team. He's known for his physical nature and could set the tone for the Galaxy in a lot of matchups.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Giovani dos Santos. The Mexican attacker has now had a full offseason to rest and also continue to gel with his Galaxy teammates. He started hot, scoring and dishing out assists almost at will before fatigue seemed to catch up with him. It will be a big year for Dos Santos, who will likely be motivated to get back into the Mexico side ahead of the summer's Copa America. 

2016 OUTLOOK

The Galaxy are a team that could go either way. On one hand, they've assembled an impressive amount of talent from both at home and abroad and if it all gels then they'll be looking at a return to the podium. On the other, the team's depth will be stretched by international call-ups. Some of their veterans, Gerrard in particular, have shown their age. But, while the Galaxy's youth system is strong, there aren't a plethora of professional-ready replacements waiting in the wings.

If LA stays healthy and gets the contributions it's hoping for from the European veterans, it will be contending for a title. If not, the Galaxy might be retooling again heading into 2017.

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