WHERE WE’VE BEEN: Frayed at the Edges

For the LA Galaxy the 2013 season began with hope. Fresh off a rocky year that nevertheless ended with Beckham lifting one last MLS Cup, LA seemed like a team with the kinks worked out. On day one, winning a third Cup didn’t seem like wishful thinking. The rallying cry fans spread across Twitter — #threepeat — didn’t seem unattainable. But that was day one. In the weeks to follow, it quickly became clear: in 2013, LA was a team unglued.

Losing Beckham wasn’t quite the blow it could’ve been. A pair of midfielders in the center, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, stepped up their game to a level that very nearly filled those shoes. And topping off the midfield recovery was a phenomenal early season performance by perennial team underdog Mike Magee. The winger came into his own last year, scoring 21 glorious goals — but only 6 for the Galaxy. In a blow that would prove more deadly than Beckham’s departure, Magee made a midseason move back to his hometown and suited up for the Chicago Fire.

It’d be unfair to call losing one of the league’s top scorers merely a bad omen. Losing Magee was worse than that. But it was also a sign of things to come.

2013 was the season LA’s every strength ended up a weakness. Despite big names in defense, like US Men’s National Team player Omar Gonzalez, LA’s back line consistently gave up key goals in the final minutes. Without a brilliant playmaker in midfield, the unstoppable stars up top — Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane — suddenly were predictable, stoppable. Plenty of hype surrounded the Galaxy’s young talent, but Zardes, Villareal and McBean turned out to be just that: talented, but inexperienced. And regardless of his resumé, former Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini never found his footing between the posts.

Midway through the season, the LA Galaxy were a team fraying at the edges. Inconsistent, with no discernible through-line, there was no sense the team was improving. The wheels were spinning in place.

It wasn’t until the final months that LA looked at all like their former selves. The signing of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo brought much-needed confidence to the back line. Bringing on the Panamanian — who quickly and deservedly was dubbed “Superman” by the fans — may prove to be the best move LA made.

But for 2013 it was too little, too late. The Galaxy made it to the playoffs but bowed out quickly, losing to Real Salt Lake in the conference semifinals. It was a fitting end to an unsatisfactory season, in which the former champions managed to look the part — but only occasionally, only in fits and bursts.

This is part 1 of a 2 part recap of LA Galaxy’s current situation. Stay tuned for part 2, WHERE WE’RE GOING, a look ahead at 2014.