Chris Schuler

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La La Land exodus continues, but Galaxy will rebuild, reload

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The LA Galaxy, not far removed from winning three MLS Cups in four years — they completed the feat just 12 months ago, actually — are in full-on tear-it-down-to-build-it-back-up mode this winter, and rightly so.

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On Tuesday it was announced that MLS’s premier club had sold U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez to Pachuca of Mexico’s Liga MX, a move that would allow financial flexibility to address a number of issues ahead of the 2016 season. Tuesday’s announcement was followed by the sale of midfielder Juninho to Club Tijuana, also of Liga MX. Both players won three MLS Cups during their time in Los Angeles, and both players leave massive holes to fill, in so many different ways.

So, where do the Galaxy go from here? In typical Galaxy fashion, they won’t just rebuild; they’ll reload.

For starters, no team in the league sells itself to players and better convinces them to make the plunge into MLS, than the Galaxy. While most MLS teams in a similar situation would look to rebuild through retreaded MLS players who’ve been around the block a few times, the player pool from which the Galaxy will select is much larger — and, to put it bluntly — better than that of the average MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS hot stove — Offseason signings, trades update ]

Rebuilding Building a backline

In truth, the defense was going to need a major addition at center back this winter, which would have been nearly impossible given roster and cap restrictions, to make it anything more than passable in 2016 anyway. The fact that Gonzalez is also gone means the Galaxy can employ two MLS-caliber center backs in 2016, rather than just one, as has been the case for a handful of years now.

While the Galaxy didn’t receive any additional allocation money for selling Gonzalez, the $436,250 (Designated Player salary cap charge) of savings against the cap could easily be used to sign a pair of starting center backs for the price of one.

MLS-based options: Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City — it’s a deal that might just make sense for both sides (for more, listen here); Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake (out of contract) — when healthy, one of the highest-upside center backs in the league, and a perfect candidate to cover acres of space.

Verdict: Whoever the Galaxy go for at center back, he/they will need to be extremely mobile and able to cover lots of ground with Gerrard acting as a turnstile in front of the backline. Whatever they do, they should not go out and spend whatever it would cost to sign Ashley Cole.

[ MORE: Gil leaves RSL for MexicoBeckham wants Zlatan in Miami ]

Tailoring a midfield to Gerrard’s strengths/weaknesses

The massive elephant in the room is the indisputable fact that Steven Gerrard‘s presence on the roster forced such widespread roster turnover this winter. His $6.3 million annual salary makes him the highest-paid Galaxy player heading into 2016 — all for a player who hugely disrupted the team’s chemistry and balance upon his arrival in August of this year.

The $350,000 of salary cap relief from selling Juninho, plus the windfall of allocation money received in the deal, plus the league’s additional investment of targeted allocation money, plus the sale of Gonzalez, means the Galaxy now have close to $2 million of on-budget cash with which to work this winter — flexibility they’d otherwise not have had.

MLS-based options: Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution (out of contract) — they’d have to give up a serious chunk of cash to acquire his rights from the Revs, but he’s got a house in LA and he’s the box-to-box terror Gerrard needs to play alongside; Perry Kitchen, D.C. United (out of contract) — again, they’d have to acquire his rights, and he’d have to be the stationary d-mid in front of the defense, but he’s a better player right now than both Jones and Gerrard; Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders (reportedly on the trading block) — his legs aren’t what they once were, and he’s hurt with alarmingly increasing frequency, but he’s as experienced and wily as they come.

Verdict: This is probably where the Galaxy look to the international market, more so than at center back, at least. Again, Gerrard needs a very specific midfield partner to protect him defensively and afford him the opportunity to maraud forward when he decides it’s time to play hero-ball. Think: a Roger Espinoza-type player.

However they rebuild and reload this winter, the Galaxy will be a factor come August and September next year, because 1) they’re the Galaxy, which means it’s their birth-given right in MLS; and, 2) they’re the richest (and most astute) team in the league, now flush with the most MLS-specific cash we’ve seen in a long, long time. To the rest of MLS: beware.

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 1

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Week 1 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is in the books. It wasn’t the most exciting week slate of games by any measure, but it sure was nice to have our old friend, MLS, taking up our entire weekend from Friday evening until late Sunday night.

Oh, that was just me? OK, then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Week 1 MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Quality of some of the games aside, a number of players’s Week 1 performances stood out head and shoulders above the rest, and they’re the ones making up PST’s first MLS Team of the Week of the 2015 season.

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ READ: PST’s 2015 team-by-team MLS previews ]

Week 1 — MLS Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Tyler Deric (Houston Dynamo)

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Defenders: Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Moises Hernandez (FC Dallas)

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Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (RSL), Davy Arnaud (D.C. United), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC)

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Forwards: Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle)

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2015 MLS season preview: Real Salt Lake

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  • Qualified for MLS Cup Playoffs every year since 2008
  • In 2014, finished 3rd in Western Conference
  • Knocked out by LA Galaxy (5-0) in conference semifinals

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]

Key player: Alvaro Saborio

60 goals in 113 MLS appearances, including 37 in 63 over his last three seasons. It’s near impossible to find a striker in MLS that can match Saborio’s consistent contributions. Only problem is, he averages 22 appearances per season, mostly because of a checkered past of injuries and partly because of Costa Rican national team call-ups. This year, the difference between 30 starts and 20 starts for Saborio in 2015, is the difference between RSL continuing their playoff streak and missing out for the first time since 2007.

Other names to watch: Javier Morales, Sebastian Jaime, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Schuler

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Head coach: Jeff Cassar

The job Cassar did in year one, keeping RSL from missing a beat after Jason Kreis departed for New York City FC, was Coach of the Year-worthy work. The system, the ethos, the identity of the club didn’t change and they were successful for it. Now, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert, three long-time starters, are gone. Can Cassar now make RSL his own, rather than continuing where Kreis left off?

Outlook for 2015

It felt wrong to do it, but I’ve got RSL on the outside of the playoffs, looking in. That said, so much of the West’s playoff picture revolves around the Portland Timbers. The ceiling for Portland feels so much higher than the likes of RSL, Vancouver and others, but the floor is rock-bottom low. With RSL, we always know what we’re gonna get, so it’s always feel like such a “safe” pick.

Which 11 players make the cut for PST’s MLS Team of the Year?

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Perhaps there hasn’t been an easier time putting together a buzz-worthy XI in MLS history. While defenders rarely get their due, this season brought some names to the forefront in ways that garnered MVP talk, like Chad Marshall in Seattle. And the World Cup and qualifying provided some other defenders a cannon from which to launch their stars into the sky.

Yet it’s still pretty tricky to cull 11 players from the hundreds who dot rosters around Major League Soccer. So we’ve brought in two XIs for you (and I may sneak in a third). Myself and Joe Prince-Wright will now put our Teams of the Year out for your perusal, hatred and laurels.

[ MLS: Playoff predictions/preview | Season-ending awards ]

Joe Prince-Wright is up first, being the lead writer/editor and all, and starts with USMNT backstop Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake as his netminder. Marshall makes his cut as one of four Seattle Sounders stars. Matt Besler slides in at back after his tremendous World Cup.

source: AP

JPW’s MLS best XI (3-4-3)

Nick Rimando (RSL)

Jose Goncalves (NE) – Chad Marshall (SEA) – Matt Besler (SKC)

Lee Nguyen (NE) – Clint Dempsey (SEA) – Osvaldo Alonso (SEA) – Diego Valeri (POR)

Robbie Keane (LA) – Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB) – Obafemi Martins (SEA)

As for me, you’ll see a lot of the same faces, but seeing as I’m the guy compiling the post, I’ll submit a second XI as well. Take that, JPW.

For me, to watch the ‘Caps is to watch the best goalkeeper in the league, as David Ousted has been simply phenomenal. Just his play in the final 20 minutes against Colorado was a reason for cheers, high-fives, fist-bumps and other modes of congratulatory sentiment. Landon Donovan gets a nod from me for his record-setting season in L.A., while Matt Hedges may’ve quietly been the best defender in the league.

source: AP

Nick Mendola’s MLS best XI (3-4-3)

David Ousted (VAN)

Matt Hedges (DAL) — Chad Marshall (SEA) — Jose Goncalves (NE)

Diego Valeri (POR) — Lee Nguyen (NE) — Landon Donovan (LA) — Clint Dempsey (SEA)

Robbie Keane (LA) — Obafemi Martins (SEA) — Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB)

As for a second XI, it pains me as a Buffalonian to slot a player in over New England’s shot-stopper Bobby Shuttleworth, but what Steve Clark did in Columbus this year was fantastic. His two PK stops put him just past Bill Hamid in my book. I had a very difficult time not slotting in Kendall Waston, who only played 10 games for Vancouver but was simply wonderful. Twenty-two games, however, was enough to get Omar Gonzalez a look in my second side.

source: Getty Images

Nick Mendola’s MLS second XI (3-4-3)

Steve Clark (CBS)

Bobby Boswell (DC) — Chris Schuler (RSL) — Omar Gonzalez (LA)

Tony Tchani (CBS) — Javier Morales (RSL) — Osvaldo Alonso (SEA) — Pedro Morales (VAN)

Thierry Henry (NYRB) — Dom Dwyer (SKC) — Erick Torres (CHV)

What do you think? Harsh to leave out Gyasi Zardes, Chris Wondolowski, Seb Le Toux, Federico Higuain and Ethan Finlay? My goodness, I could’ve put together more XIs and still felt like I was uppercutting the league!

An end-of-season (mostly) uncapped MLS XI for Jurgen Klinsmann’s approval

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Last week both MLS and the USMNT were in the news for less than savory reasons, as Don Garber responded to Jurgen Klinsmann’s criticism of Michael Bradley’s MLS form with a bevy of strong words.

Here at PST, we like to turn negatives into positives.

[ MLS: Power Rankings | Player of the Week ]

So we thought we’d prop up Garber, who probably would’ve been better suited to express his concerns privately, while sending out notice to Jurgen Klinsmann that he could do well by giving a look to some of these new (or relatively new) faces in his side at some point soon.

Some qualifications: Recently-capped but barely-used USMNT players like Eric Alexander (called up last January but having only two caps) were not included due to them clearly being on Klinsmann’s radar. Pre-Klinsmann capped players like Lee Nguyen make the cut.

Goalkeeper
Steve Clark, Columbus

Honorable mention: Bobby Shuttleworth, New England

Analysis: Clark proved his mettle in Norway and is now looking to be the real deal on American soil. We slight Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson due to actual call-ups, and Shuttleworth has to find that next level to challenge Clark… though his statistics dictate that a playoff run could help his star rise even higher (especially playing behind Jermaine Jones).

Defenders

source: Getty Images

Andrew Farrell, New England
Matt Hedges, FC Dallas
Steve Birnbaum, DC United
Sean Franklin, DC United

Honorable mention: David Horst, Houston; Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake

Analysis: Farrell is probably a center back down the line, but works for our purposes outside. Hedges is an absolute beast and both Horst and Schuler fall victim to our numbers game.

Midfielders
Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia
Dillon Powers, Colorado
Lee Nguyen, New England
Ethan Finlay, Columbus

Honorable mention: Tony Tchani, Columbus; Kelyn Rowe, New England

Analysis: A Cameroonian by birth, Tchani will sit on the backburner despite buzz that he could be in demand by the States. Powers’ call-up feels inevitable. Nguyen has been dynamite and really seems to be the best example Garber could use of a US player using MLS to prop up his game after being abroad in Vietnam, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Forwards
source: Getty Images
Gyasi Zardes, Los Angeles
Andrew Wenger, Philadelphia

Honorable mention: Jack McInerney, Montreal

Tricky area here. McInerney is the big engine that hasn’t quite shown consistency, while the player he was traded for (Wenger) continues to impress. Zardes has to get a look soon. It would be criminal if he remains overlooked by Klinsmann comes January.