Photo by Robert Mora

CoG Interview with LA Times’ Kevin Baxter

Josh spoke with LA Times Sports’ Kevin Baxter about LA Galaxy’s sales of former G-men, Juninho and Omar Gonzalez and the breaking rumors on Ashley Cole and its implications on the Galaxy.

You can find the complete show HERE

Josh Guesman (on Omar Gonzalez’s transfer and the unsurprising departure of Juninho): First let’s talk about Omar Gonzalez. What do we know about Omar Gonzalez and the reason he ended up at Pachuca? If you look at the supposed transfer fee of $750,000 it looks like they were offloading.

Kevin Baxter: Well if Omar had taken the maximum allowed to be paid to someone who is not a DP which was about $457,000, plus the added TAM money of $800,000, if the LA Galaxy would have maxed out on both of those, Omar would have got just a little bit more over his base salary last year. He would have gotten $192,000 less than his total salary, which includes bonuses and that is averaged over 2 years. So I’m not sure how much of a paycut it would have been. It would not have been a pay raise which is probably what Omar was expecting. Bruce Arena told me in early December that they were trying to renogotiate with Omar and the only way that it would happen is if Omar took a new contract.

I’m really not sure how sincere the Galaxy was in really trying to pursue that. Because the math was really complicated, and again the Galaxy would have been totally maxed out, they would have had no room to make any other moves. I do know going into the offseason that Bruce Arena told me they thought they’d have to make 1 maybe 2 transfers to make everything work.

I think people read that as maybe Gyasi Zardes going to the Championship in England. Which would have been maybe a great short-term move, but not long-term move for the Galaxy. So… one of the plans was to get rid of Omar, transfer him, send him somewhere, so this was not a surprise. Nor was Juninho. I think Juninho is going to prove to be an important loss in the coming season. I think people are going to see just how valuable he was this coming season. I talked to his agent after coming home from the Seattle loss in the playoffs. He was pretty open about the fact that Juninho wanted to go somewhere else. He loved Bruce Arena. He loves Southern California. He loves the Galaxy. But he just felt like it was time to move on. His agent mentioned a number of times that Juninho didn’t think he was getting the recognition or attention he deserved and I took that to mean that the Galazy were bringing in the flavor of the month every month with Giovani Dos Santos and Steven Gerrard, and Juninho just felt like ‘I’m here and no one’s paying attention to me’ so that move didn’t surprise me at all though, the location did.

I know Juninho’s agent was looking at some smaller clubs in Europe. Juninho’s brother plays in China and is having a great career there so I thought maybe he’d go there. The fact that Juninho is leaving though wasn’t a surprise.

Josh Guesman (on was Juninho playing second fiddle for too long) : Yes, Juninho was playing second fiddle. But the people he was playing second fiddle to though, are people like Steven Gerrard, or David Beckham or even Marcelo Sarvas. When you look at all of that, it’s not a horrible thing to play second fiddle to those 3 guys.

Kevin Baxter: And Juninho’s agent made the point repeatedly that Juninho was not unhappy. But Juninho is getting a little further on in his career, he’s getting to be in the middle age for a soccer player, he’s going to be 27 next season. I think the feeling was just that ‘When am I going to get my turn in the spotlight?’

You’re right he did have to play a little bit as a second fiddle to David Beckham and I think as a young player, looked and thought this is great , ‘I’m playing with David Beckham and Landon Donovan.’ Then, I think out of repect to his fellow Brazilian, Marcelo Sarvas, who had more experience, felt like he would step away and let Marcelo have the spotlight. But then, it was supposed to be his time last year. And it was, at the beginning of last year. He was the only one who played every game last year for the Galaxy. He was the captain when Robbie Keane was gone and injured. I think he felt like ‘I’ve proven I can do this. Now they’re bringing in Gerrard. Now we have Dos Santos for four years, and who’s going to come after this. Maybe it’s time for me to move on?’

He was making good money. He made over $300,000 last year. He was probably due a raise. I think the Galaxy looked at that and said this might be a guy that would give us a salary relief it we move him. So I was not surprised to see Juninho go.

Josh Guesman (on what is Bruce thinking re: Ashley Cole, positioning and more roster implications): Now we have Bruce Arena saying he’d like to add 3-4 players to the roster. I think we all thought great we could use a midfielder, we could get a central defender if we have $800,000 in TAM available. So that’s a huge chunk of money. Maybe we could get 1-2 players to do that. You have all the general allocation money that comes from the sales of Omar and Juninho. So why do you think that the LA Galaxy, and you wrote it too, that the LA Galaxy are interested in a 35-year-old Ashley Cole?

Kevin Baxter: Let me step back for a moment and say Bruce Arena is as close to genius as it gets for MLS. He puts a competitive team out there every single season, and he does it seemingly with smoke and mirrors. You look at the team going into pre-season camp or at this time of the year and it doesn’t seem to make sense and by the time the whistle blows, it makes sense. Let’s give Bruce the benefit of the doubt. He says he has 3 or 4 moves that he still has to make so until he makes those moves, I don’t think we can really take a complete look at what the Galaxy is going to look like.

To your question about Ashley Cole: When they moved Gonzalez and Juninho, and you look at the salary relief, they have some money, they can do some things, they have some options. It does seem now like they’re going to take all of that salary relief, and hand it all to a 35-year-old Ashley Cole, who’s fallen out of favor in Roma, who hasn’t played since March, who’s played 14 games since coming over from the EPL in 2014. A guy that has repeatedly dissed MLS, but oddly after that his people reached out to Orlando City SC last season, about transferring, so he’s had his eyes on MLS for a while.

But it doesn’t seem to make sense: he’s a left back, not a center back, that means he will be competing or taking Robbie Rogers spot. Robbie Rogers is one of the best left backs in MLS. And we need help with central defense. He’s a guy, at 35, who probably doesn’t have the fitness to run up and down the field as a winger. He’s going to be playing here, as Steven Gerrard found out, at altitude, in the heat, taking plane rides through three time zones to play games, and that all is very taxing. So this strikes me as being a very odd move. We know the Galaxy loves big names, the love deep pedigrees. This is sort of the Galaxy’s MO. I don’t want to say they’ve gotten lucky because they’ve done their homework so maybe this will work out [the way it worked out with Robbie Keane]. Maybe give Bruce a little more time to see how this all works out. Right now, fans are not happy.

When I spoke with the Galaxy yesterday, I asked about face-to-face meetings reportedly happening with Ashley Cole this week, and if he was going to meet with him. Bruce said no. But when I asked if someone else was going to meet with [Ashley], Arena said “we’re not going to talk about players who are under contract with other teams.” So I took that as ‘yes, there’s someone meeting with him.

Then I mentioned that there were reports out there that Ashley Cole was out of contract and had been released by Roma in mid-August and was now a free agent. Roma would not comment on this at all. But Bruce said he’s training in Italy. That led me to believe that if Bruce knows where he’s training, that means someone is going there to meet with him. If the Galaxy are serious about this, and if Ashley Cole decides to not go back to England and that he wants to come to MLS, then the Galaxy will have this wrapped up by this weekend and will not announce till early next week.

Josh Guesman (on how can the Galaxy accommodate Cole in the lineup) : If Ashley Cole were taking left back, Robbie Rogers would go over to right back, and move AJ into center. Is there too much movement in the Galaxy? They’re going to have to be sharp for CONCACAF Champions League coming up.

Kevin Baxter: Putting him on the right side weakens Robbie Rogers’ play a little bit. Moving AJ back next to Leonardo is a really good move and they have some young center backs they’ll try to bring along this year. But remember AJ was really good because he was next to Omar, his former college roomate whom he had played with for over 9 years now. So it’ll take a little time for him to get comfortable. Maybe Robbie can go back to midfield, and Dan Gargan stayed on the backline, that might have a chance of working out. One thing that I’m curious about is watching the new players come in. Bruce Arena did say that the backline is going to be fine and I think we’re going to have some more options on the attacking end [which may equate to] some more offense players coming in.

Here’s where the loss of Juninho is going to be apparent. One of the things he was really good at, was being extrememly unselfish on the field. With Gerrard that was very important because there were some games when he wanted to run all over the field, and Juninho had to hold back and play holding midfield. There were other games when Gerrard was gassed, and Juninho had to be more active and play a striking role. Gerrard will be paired with another central midfielder this year and that person will have to have the ability to do both things and understand whether Steven [does or doesn’t have it on any given day]. So that will be a very unique relationship and it will take an extremely rare player to fill that job.

Josh Guesman (on LA’s lack of a true holding central midfielder dilemma) : The problem with all of the current midfielders that I have, except Rafa Garcia maybe, is that none are defensive-minded. You’re losing that holding central midfielder that Juninho was and it will be difficult for him to pair with whoever he’s got.

Kevin Baxter: If you move Sebastian Lletget or even Baggio Husidic, you’re taking them away from what we’ve decided is their best position. In addition to moving a midfielder in there to play with Gerrard, not only the ability to do both those things and not push forward all the time, but the unselfishness. You do see a lot of players in soccer in general when they’re forced to do something as the game unfolds, they’re pushed to do something they’re not comfortable with, the hands go up, the fingers go out, ‘I’m not supposed to be doing this, don’t blame me for getting beat.’ That is not the Galaxy style.

What if you played a 3-2-3-2, then all of a sudden Ashley Cole has to cover a lof more territory, is that what you really want? And besides Bruce Arena has for his entire career been a very straight 4-4-2 guy. Why would he want at 63-years-old to try to reinvent himself with EPL style that changes formation every week?

Josh Guesman: Is this Ashley Cole thing finished and settled? Is there still some wiggle room in the Ashley Cole situation?

Kevin Baxter:  One thing I always do is ask should I follow this? Does this have legs? I was told off the record, it’s very close to happening. That’s what the Galaxy thinks. I don’t know what Roma thinks nor what Ashley Cole’s people think. There are other people interested in him – Aston Villa (a team that’s clearly going to be relegated). Last year Crystal Palace was interested. Maybe he’s using this to up the offer from England? If it is going to happen, the Italian transfer window opens Monday and I’m sure it’ll happen before then.


*CC — On that note, brace yourselves. Keep in mind this is far from a done deal but we don’t have to wait long. And, maybe a lineup shakeup is exactly what the doctor ordered. Rebuilding and reinvention takes time. We’ll make the playoffs in 2016…