It’d be easy to look at the core group of players LA retained over the offseason and imagine the 2014 Galaxy squad will look much like they did in 2013. It’d be easy, but it’d be wrong. LA’s relatively quiet offseason belies big changes in how they’ll play. Let’s dig into those changes.
The most important move Bruce Arena made in the ramp-up to March 8th wasn’t a signing — it was shifting Landon Donovan from striker back to left wing. Front-loading the prodigious goal-scoring pair of Keane and Donovan served LA well, until suddenly it didn’t. The Galaxy’s attack got too predictable and too containable. Moving Donovan is a big step toward fixing that.
In his place, the Galaxy have brought on a pair of strikers. One is an experienced target man, big enough to bully defenders and free up space for Keane’s deadly footwork. That’s Rob Friend, and he’s likely locked down the starting position. The other striker’s no slouch either — Samuel’s relative inexperience hasn’t slowed him down one bit in the offseason, as he’s scored goals and consistently proven a handful for defenders. I don’t think he’s starting on March 8th, but it’s a close call.
For the wing opposite Donovan, LA picked up Swedish signing Stefan Ishizaki. There’s no doubting Stefan’s talent — a quick YouTube search proves that — but as the preseason nears its end it’s actually returning rookie Gyasi Zardes who seems to have secured the starting spot. Zardes is most suited for a striker role, no doubt. But he’s looked better in these few preseason skirmishes than he did all of last year, and with the forward positions firmly locked down, Gyasi may have earned himself a starting spot in midfield instead.
The choice between the two boils down to a choice between solid crosses or a dangerous, goal-hungry third man. Ishizaki can provide service in spades — but if Bruce is looking for a wildcard attacker like he had in Magee, Zardes just might be his man.
Holding down the very heart of the Galaxy, at center mid, are the inseparable Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho. We’ve heard rumblings Juninho will be focused on the attack while Marcelo hangs back, and it’ll be interesting to see if that translates into a more productive season for Juninho.
Baggio Husidic was another offseason addition. He’s played for Chicago and Swedish side Hammarby IF, and he’s a good back-up for either center midfielder.
The Galaxy allowed Sean Franklin to leave through the MLS Re-Entry draft, opening up a big hole in defense, and it remains to be seen whether they can fully recover. A.J. DeLaGarza has moved into right back. He’s looked a bit shaky in the preseason — still, I have faith he’ll find his footing. Omar and Leonardo are a lock for the center positions, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kofi Opare get plenty of time on the field.
Todd Dunivant missed the entire preseason due to injury. Filling in was trialist James Riley, who LA finally signed just this week. Riley looked great on the left, often getting himself involved in the attack, and was a huge asset in moving the ball up the field. Still, if Dunivant is fully recovered by the 8th it’s hard to imagine the Galaxy stalwart not starting against Real Salt Lake.
Jaime Penedo broke his pinky finger, but it was a blessing in disguise. It gave Brian Perk a chance to put up serious minutes in the preseason friendlies, reassuring all of us that there’s solid back-up for the Panamanian starter.
KEY – Likely starter, first sub.
GK Jaime Penedo, Brian Perk
RD – A.J. DeLaGarza, Oscar Sorto
CD – Omar Gonazalez, Leonardo, Kofi Opare
LD – Todd Dunivant, James Riley
RM – Gyasi Zardes, Stefan Ishizaki
CM – Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Baggio Husidic
LM – Landon Donovan, Robbie Rogers