Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: LA Galaxy

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

On March 3, LA Galaxy will start MLS’s third three-peat quest. In 1998, a young(er) Bruce Arena, having guided D.C. United to the league’s first two titles, made a third-straight MLS Cup only to lose to expansion Chicago. Ten years later, Dominic Kinnear’s Houston Dynamo didn’t make it that far, failing to become the first team to claim three straight titles.

Just over five weeks before their defense starts, LA still have too many questions to know whether they’ll be able to match last year’s result. While the roster’s that reported for preseason training would still be competitive in the Western Conference, the absence of Landon Donovan and a lack of replacement for David Beckham means Los Angeles have more questions than the team they beat in last month. And unlike the beginning of last season, none of those questions are in defense.

But as LA’s 2012 showed, Major League Soccer’s is a long season. Teams need not have their answers in March, but if Bruce Arena can answer these questions in preseason, the team will be better-situated to fight in the always competitive West.

  • How do you replace David Beckham?

With Frank Lampard,” is the easy response from Galaxy fans. But let’s slow down. Until that’s settled, we might want to consider the backup plans, because while the Lampard-to-LA rumors are hot enough to warm us through winter, the Chelsea legend wouldn’t be the first to leverage MLS for a contract elsewhere (or, simply change his mind).

One way or another, LA seems intent on filling their vacant Designated Player spot, but even if they don’t, Bruce Arena still has a solid midfield of the recently-retained Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas. For part of last season, the duo were a better pair than Beckham and Juninho. With the two Brazilians, LA’s still above-average in the middle of the park.

LA will miss Beckham’s distribution, though. They’ll miss his calm on the ball, his ability to read and reaction to a game, and that extra gear he always had when stakes were highest.

It’s difficult to know how much that’s worth (or how you replace it).

  • How big are Robbie’s shoulders?

At the end of last year, everybody on the Galaxy agreed: Robbie Keane was Major League Soccer’s best player after he returned from Euro 2012. But with Beckham gone and Donovan out indefinitely, Keane’s going to have to carry the attack, something he’s only done on the end of others’ distribution.

He’s certainly capable of doing it. The pass Keane played to Donovan to win MLS Cup 2011 is still in him. His ability to read a developing attack may be unparalleled in MLS, whether that be running among defenders or pulling the strings to exploit them.

The big risk is burn out. Keane shows no sign of slowing down, but he turns 33 in July. And he’s never had to carry this load before.

Then again, if Donovan comes back sooner rather than later, he won’t have to.

  • Can you count on Landon?

We know Donovan’s going to be back, and despite having to split his attentions between club, country, and England over the last three years, the Galaxy captain has always been there for the team when needed. But when a guy contemplates retirement and openly ponders whether he still has the drive, it’s fair to wonder if those feelings will come back during the season.

I give Donovan a lot of credit for his honestly. It’s difficult for an athlete to show weakness and trust it will be perceived intelligently by media and fans. Still, he’s decided to give us the benefit of the doubt (that, or he just doesn’t care). He trusts that through his honesty we’ll see his conflict and be sympathetic, no matter the outcome.

You can both question Donovan’s commitment and respect what he brings. It would be no failing on his part to try and comeback only to realize it’s just not in him. The question is: How likely is that to happen?

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Montreal Impact

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.