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.
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.
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.