Los Angeles Galaxy – End of Regular Season Report Card

And so the regular season is at an end.  We’re now well into the 2014 MLS Playoffs but as this blog is merely days old, I’m going to shuffle back a little bit and give my assessment of the events between March and October.

Let’s stick with tradition and take it one player at a time.
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Jaime Penedo, Gk

After having Josh Saunders form crumble in 2012 and Carlo Cudicini play less like a goalkeeper and more like he was trying to perform a charade for “The Man Who Wasn’t There” in 2013, it was nice to have some reliability between the sticks again.

Performances ranged from solid to strong with the very occasional gaffe thrown in. Overall very good. B+

Dan Gargan, RB

Proved a solid replacement for Sean Franklin, playing intelligently and marshalling the flank well.  Bit of a bland but functional assessment that. Which kind of epitomizes your average reliable fullback. B
AJ DeLaGarza, CB, FB

Sadly, 2014 will be remembered for the passing of AJ’s newborn son, Luca. DeLaGarza is in my opinion, one of the league’s most underappreciated defenders. Small among center backs, he more than makes up for it with his positoning, intelligence and reading of the game, not to mention decent technique on the ball. This was as strong a season as he’s had. The USA’s loss is Guam’s gain. B+

Leonardo, CB

“This is a pleasant evening, the gentle breeze feels nice on my skin… Oh shit, I’m meant to be marking that guy!!”

If not for this apparent mindset, Leonardo would be a pretty solid defender.  However, at this stage in his career, he’s been doing this too regularly for far too many years for us to expect that it’s something he’ll overcome.

I prefer AJ and Tommy Meyer in his place. Presumably he’s got pictures or footage of Bruce doing something he wouldn’t want the public to see (my guess is expressing warmth to a journalist) because he keeps getting decent minutes. C-
Omar Gonzales, CB

“This is a pleasant evening, the gentle breeze feels nice on my skin… Oh shit, I’m meant to be marking that guy!!”

Yep.  At the start of the season, he was suffering from a severe case of the “Leonardos”. Gonzo seemed to turn it around after a nice showing at the World Cup, however.  In fact, his form after that date was back to 2012 levels. This is great news because when he’s on, the league has noone better. Would have rated slightly higher had he performed better early on. B
Baggio Husidic, CM, RW

What can you say about Husidic?  That’s an honest question because his game is pretty non-descript.  There’s the fact he goes by his nickname “Baggio” after Roberto Baggio, which was gained as a child for being good at football.  However, if we’re calling him Baggio relating to his current talent levels, Ronaldo Cristman has a nice ring to it.

Very much a journeyman.  Okay at the basics, dependable, rarely outstanding.  It times he has been a weakness, but generally you know what you’re getting. C+

Stefan Ishizaki, RW

The opposite of Husidic.  If Husidic’s talent gets him unintentionally ironically called “Baggio”, I shall be using the moniker Irwin Ishizaki for his dependability.  In other words, he doesn’t have much.  Inconsistency epitomises his game.  Either a real difference-maker or a frustrator.  So much so that even Bruce “Leonardo, you’re starting” Arena noticed, demoting him from starter to impact sub, handing his position to Husidic for the second half of the season. C+

Robert Hampton Rogers III, LB, LW

When a figure who has become as steeped in recent Galaxy Folklore as Mike “Mr November” Magee (blessed is his name) leaves to facilitate the signing of another player, that player had better deliver.  Not only did Robbie Rogers fail to deliver in 2013, he did so while Mike Magee continued his stellar form in Chicago and made the rare accomplishment of being awarded league MVP despite his team not making the playoffs.

With that in mind, few expected Robbie Rogers to do much in 2014.  A move from the wing to left back proved to be an exercise in redemption and vindication.  While Zardes finally gave LA an alterntive source of goals to the known quantity that is Keanovan, Rogers was free of the burden of creating offence and took to his new role like a duck to water.  Despite again battling injury troubles, he was able to contribute heavily to the team’s defensive and possession systems and while it doesn’t quite turn the departure of the exalted one into a good trade, nobody is any longer debating it as one of the Galaxy’s worst ever. B
Juninho, CM

Another that was hurt a little by the team’s early form.  Juni does have an occasional tendency to get in a funk. When Juni gets into a funk, he gets lazy.  He stops tracking back, leaves the defence exposed and that can sometimes involve relying on Leonardo being focussed.  So it was, early in the season.

When Juni is switched on and engaged, I would go as far as to say there is nobody more integral to LA’s possession game.  He had the highest passing percentage of any regular starter (2nd in the league) and his tandem with fellow Brazilian, Marcello Sarvas is a ball-retention machine.  Fortunately, it was this Juninho we got for more than two thirds of this season. B

Marcelo Sarvas, CM

The slightly more offensive of a midfield tandem that isn’t especially offensive.  That said, Sarvas was able to contribute seven assists and three goals and anything the duo lack in flair, they make up for in efficiency.  Got a fair few bookings but aside from that, rarely put a foot wrong. B+

Landon Donovan, FW, CAM, RW, LW

A huge part of the narrative in American soccer all year.  Started off playing okay.  Got notoriously dropped from the World Cup squad, announced his retirement and then spent the next few months tearing teams apart.  When you make Bruce Arena burst into tears on camera, you know you’ve had one hell of a career, no matter what Jurgen Klinsmann might think.

It has to be said that as soon as the decision was made that this would be his last year, a weight seemed to be lifted off his shoulders.  Suddenly he was playing with a level of confidence and creativity a notch or two above his already notable standard.  Ten goals, fourteen assists, securing the respective records in MLS, it was quite a season to go out on. A-

Gyassi Zardes, FW

After a debut season of fluffing chances, the words “My skills will blow your mind” from his signing-on press-conference still ringing in our ears, something clicked in year two.  Sixteen goals, one third of an obscenely productive trio with Keane and Donovan, resulting in the Galaxy coming away with a +32 Goal Difference that was +17 over any other team, Gyassi broke out.

That’s not to say he’s quite the complete article yet.  The biggest change this term was the taking of the many chances he received.  He still shanked and shinned a few here and there and going into the playoffs in a minor drought means 2015 will show if 2014 was a start of things to come or an especially fruitful purple patch. B+

Robbie Keane, FW

It says something that in most discussions about MVPs, Keane doesn’t get brought up and discussed all that much.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that Keane has been so strong for LA Galaxy since arriving, that you almost take it for granted.  Some of it is also down to the fact that there’s not much to discuss about it.

He’s not perfect.  He occasionally snatches at shots, is sometimes guilty of making decisions on the ball based on getting himself a scoring chance in the next couple of plays, when he could try to make an assist right now. He admonishes his teammates for not putting the ball where he wants it, stops to berate the referee while there is active play going on around him and he seems to have forgotten how to take penalties.  All of which is completely erased by the way he carves other teams open, makes his teammates raise their games and racks up goals and assists like they’re going out of fashion.

And for all his histrionics, he still has the humility to talk up teammates in the press (arguing for Donovan after his World Cup exclusion, claiming Rogers should be a national team player on recent form and even saying that he’d happily recommend Mike Magee for the Republic of Ireland Team if he ever wanted to use his heritage to play for them).

Of the many high-profile DPs that come to MLS, bigger names can and do flop, don’t put in the effort, or are surprised by the league not being the cake-walk they anticipated.  Keane has displayed confidence but also a strong measure of professionalism from day one.  As captain he leads by example, produces moments of magic, but also contributes to the overall play.  18 goald and 9 assists in 29 appearances.  He should be league MVP. A

Alan Gordon, FW

While some may have scoffed at the return of Alan “Snowshoes” Gordon, I was all for it.  “Bring him back”, I said.  “He’ll get us goals!” and I was right.  As an impact sub and a strong aerial presence, he banged in five goals despite mostly coming on 60-70mins into games.  What he lacks in skill, he makes up for in strength, determination and experience.  Not to mention the mass melancholy he caused among the San Jose Earthquake fans who held him up as a hero, by declaring upon his return that he always saw LA Galaxy as home!

Those of you who ever doubted him, hang your heads in shame! A+++ (somewhere, a certain John W is slowly shaking his head, muttering the words “B**lsh**ting B**tard….”)

There are other notable mentions.  Tommy Meyer stepped in on occasion and did well.  Brian Perk deputised in goal to good effect.  They get B- grades for their work.  Todd Dunivant unfortunately struggled with injury so is hard to grade.  Youngster Chandler Hoffman gets a positive C+, used mostly as a hold up presence in attack late in games.  Worth noting he scored almost a goal a game for LA Galaxy II in their inaugural PDL Pro season.

Then there’s Rob Friend, coming back to America after a decent journeyman career in Germany, who was clearly meant to be what Alan Gordon eventually was.  Sadly he didn’t deliver in that role.  Also Samuel who ultimately returned to Fluminense from whom he was on loan.  He’d scored on his debut in a CONCACAF Champions League game, followed that up by pulling off a rainbow flick on his league debut and that was just about it.  Two higher profile signings who disappointed and I’m afraid garner D grades.

Overall a very strong season.  It had a slow start which I personally attribute to some schedule shuffling to accommodate a Champions League KO stage campaign that fizzled out quickly.  This led to a disjointed set of fixtures and LA struggled to get into a rhythm and were rapidly being written off by observers.  Once they hit their stride however, they were unstoppable for an extended spell, drubbing a number of teams and boasting a ridiculous number of goals scored, an incredible defensive record and a striking style of football.  Unfortunately they couldn’t quite sustain it to the very last and back end of the season saw disappointing results, which ultimately allowed Seattle to snatch the Supporters Shield in the last game of the season.  But for those few, but notable negatives, this would have been a phenomenal season.  It still might end up that way after the playoffs.

Overall: B+

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