Game winning goalscorer Landon Donovan c

Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: LA Galaxy


(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: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.