No Donovan may mean more problems for Galaxy’s post-Beckham world

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Catch the right Galaxy game, and the atmosphere at StubHub Center is worthy of one of the league’s most prestigious teams. Amid a captivating dusk of the Southern California summer, one of the league’s more fan-friendly atmospheres highlights a generation growing up with Major League Soccer. Despite its market’s competition, the four-time champions have gained staked out a place in complicated sports market.

But the significance of that place is about to be tested. Even in the absence of David Beckham, the local profile of the Galaxy brand has diminished. Now, with the impending departure of its biggest star, the team will have to embark on a makeover. No matter whom AEG brings in, nobody will replace Landon Donovan.

[ RELATED: Landon Donovan to retired at end of 2014 season. ]

Not that LA doesn’t have other stars. Robbie Keane is one of MLS’s best players, and as the face of a team, there are few U.S. stars that have the potential of Omar Gonzalez. With an open Designated Player spot, Los Angeles has the profile to bring in the game’s bigger stars; potentially more, if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement gives them more ways to stock up. The team that takes the field next spring may turn out to be more talent than the one Donovan leaves this fall.

But is there another player who can make the same connection as Donovan? An American star that allows fans to be conflict-free between their club and national teams? Is there somebody good enough to be an icon but young enough to grow with the next generation of fans? Is there another player with a local connection who, even if he’s played elsewhere in his career, will allow Los Angeles to embrace him as their own?

One look at the national team says no. A deeper look at the next generation sees talented players who lack the overall package. For LA as much as MLS, Donovan was a truly unique star.

As much as losing a great player and leader, that will be the hardest part. Nobody can replace Donovan, the spokesman. Los Angeles is very much a Lakers town, one that’s swinging even farther towards basketball with the Clippers’ growth and UCLA’s historic success. For the older generation, the Dodgers are the area’s iconic team, while both USC and UCLA football have dominant presences in the absence of the NFL (which still sells a lot of Raiders gear in the area). While the NHL’s Kings and, farther south, the Angels and Ducks all have some of the pie, LA’s sports market, as peculiar as it may be, is defined by a few, clear icons.

When LA had David Beckham, it would break into that sphere, with the exploits of a global icon able to wrestle away time on the local news. With only Donovan, the attention has decreased, though his presence has allowed LA to stay on the map. A local media with a short attention span has that focal point to reference whenever soccer becomes important.

[ RELATED: For Donovan the man, it’s time to move on. ]

But what happens come 2015? Keane and Gonzalez aren’t enough. LA can be expected to bring in bigger stars, but it took somebody like David Beckham to make an impact before. Even well into his retirement, few players have a Q Score to match Beckham, who may still be Los Angeles’s most popular soccer player.

The Galaxy could go out, find two more Robbie Keanes, and win a fifth (perhaps sixth) title, but unless one of those stars can replace Donovan’s appeal, they could have trouble making progress in that market. As evidenced by the Kings, whose two Stanley Cups have failed to recapture the local relevant of Wayne Gretzky’s era, star power is important. Only brands like the Lakers and Dodgers can get by on winning alone.

Go to StubHub Center on a weeknight in summer, and you see the line the Galaxy walk. Life in Carson, Calif., is often an anonymous one. Have an 11:30 a.m. kickoff on a Saturday? The crowd will thin out.

The team lives a precarious life on the edge of the SoCal sports scene. Without Donovan, they’ll have to find a new way to keep up.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.