Everything a very active LA Galaxy have done this winter can be traced back to a 2015 season that fell well short of their lofty standards. Head coach and general manager Bruce Arena has remade the squad, so while names like Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes are back, the club also chose to sell on on a pair of of players who were fixtures in previous championship sides: center-back Omar Gonzalez and holding midfielder Juninho.
The Galaxy is not an organization happy with standing pat. The salary cap room opened up by the sale of Gonzalez and Juninho allowed LA to bring in a trio of players rife with experience. Using his patented magic for working with the MLS constraints, Arena has convinced Ashley Cole and Nigel de Jong to leave Italy for a stint in Southern California. The Galaxy also acquire Jelle van Damme, a Belgian international with a mean streak who will fill the void left by Gonzalez.
The Big Question
Can the old guys get it done? Nigel de Jong is 31. Van Damme is 32. Ashley Cole is 35. Steven Gerrard, who arrived last summer and struggled to find consistency in the strange new environment of MLS, will turn 36 during the season. Robbie Keane, the club’s leading goalscorer for each of the last four years, will do the same. Even some of the depth players LA signed during the winter, like Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz, are on the wrong side of 30. This is not a young team. There are real questions as to whether a team built around aging stars can hold up over the course of a brutal MLS season.
A good start hardly guarantees anything, either. The Galaxy actually open their season in the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos Laguna before diving into the league schedule. With rest and preparation, things might even go well; but the measure of the team, and of Arena’s “veteran” experiment, will be down the stretch of the season when clubs typically deal with tired legs and injuries.
Nigel de Jong’s addition to the team probably makes the most sense of any of Arena’s gambits. He’s the youngest of the European imports and directly fills a need in central midfield. Last season’s attempt to make Juninho’s talents work alongside marquee addition Steven Gerrard proved to be a failure in the end; with Gerrard locked into a big-money Designated Player contract, Juninho became expendable, but his subsequent departure for Club Tijuana forced Arena to go looking for a new partner for Gerrard.
De Jong seems readymade for the role, mostly because he’ll do all of the defensive work that Gerrard can’t, or won’t, do anymore. De Jong’s presence should allow Gerrard to roam more freely, finding pockets in which to pick up the ball and unleash 60-yard diagonals or make delayed runs into the box to get on the rebounds and loose balls.
De Jong has no compunction about doing the dirty work. He’ll also add an edge to the Galaxy (with Van Damme right behind) that has been lacking for a few years. Robbie Keane can throw a tantrum with the best of them, but that doesn’t always translate into an interminable will to win that the whole team can feel.
From The Dugout
LA’s busy and somewhat surprising offseason puts a spotlight on coach Bruce Arena, who has time and again proven his ability to put together a winning side, but still facing a new round of doubters. Arena is confident in the squad he has assembled, though, however old it may now look on paper.
“I think you always have to think about the balance on your team with their age and experience, but I believe that we do have the right balance here,” Arena told LAGalaxy.com. “Good players who are fit and have their minds right can play at 35 years old, 31 years old or 21 years old. I think that you have to have the right balance. Certainly, we’re going to be a veteran and experienced team.”
The signing of Ashley Cole was particularly eyebrow-raising, but Arena said in a team interview that the 35-year-old has the chance to be “one of the better left-backs” in MLS. Could this be Arena’s way of saying he’s all in on this season’s team, make or break? Either way, there will be plenty of attention on LA (but that is nothing new).
From The Locker Room
Losing two key players in one off-season may seem like carelessness, but LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane viewed the trading as productive considering the acquisitions of Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole and Jelle van Damme. “When you lose two players like Juninho and Omar (Gonzalez), it’s important that you get players who are just as good or better,” Keane says.
The refreshed team will be making up for lost time. “We’re disappointed at the way the last season ended,” says Keane of a 2015 season that saw the Galaxy lose in the first round of the playoffs. “When you’re used to winning, it’s very, very hard to lose. You have players here who want to consistently win and lift the trophy.”
The new players will have to mesh with the additions from last year – Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos – but Keane expects coach Bruce Arena to manage that quickly: “Bruce would be the Alex Ferguson in America, and that’s the highest compliment I can give him.”
Keane has claimed three championship titles with the Galaxy. The club as a whole has five, more than any other organization in the league, yet the captain was excited about preparing for a new season. “When you love playing the game and you always want to be the best at it, it’s easy to do,” Keane says.
This is Home
- STUBHUB CENTER
- CAPACITY: 27,000
- OPENED: June 1, 2003
- LOCATION: Carson, CA
Fan’s Insider Tip
Josh Guesman (@GalaxyPodcast): The Pacific Ocean is a great place to set the pace for your LA Galaxy Gameday experience. So do your best to make it to Redondo or Manhattan Beach. Once there you might run into a few LA Galaxy personalities seen strolling on the Strand and enjoying that ocean breeze.
The bar situation around StubHub isn’t great but there are more than a few excellent breweries. Smog City Brewing Company is located in Torrance, and just a quick Uber Ride to the Stadium. You’ll see more than a few Galaxy kits hours before the game and the beer is outstanding.
Parking at StubHub can be a nightmare. Get there early. Enter off of Victoria if you’re parking onsite. Or check on LA Galaxy message boards and twitter for alternate parking that might include a short walk, but be easier on your pocket (parking is $15). The parking lots open approximately seven hours before kick off. And with the LA Galaxy you’ll want to tailgate. Tailgating is allowed in lots 10, 11, 12 and 13; bring a grill.
Now that it’s almost game time, if you enter the stadium early (gates open 90 minutes before kick-off), the only real draw is LA’s resident space alien, Cozmo. Take a picture with him, tell him you love tacos, and bask in his affection.
With the game over, and the LA Galaxy once again collecting three points, do yourself a favor and look for the carts selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Sure, they’re technically “not allowed,” but that’s what makes them taste so good. Get it with everything.
Finally, if somehow you weren’t able to track down the hot dog carts, drive on over to IN-N-OUT back in Redondo Beach – the one on Inglewood Ave. You never know who you’ll find there. Even finely-tuned professional athletes can’t resist the animal-style fries and the grilled onions. And they might grab a burger before calling it a night.