(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:
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