And so another Los Angeles Galaxy season enters the record books.
The G’s come away with a decent record. Just six losses all season, a reasonable 3rd place finish in the Western Conference, alongside an okay 6th place overall.
They got to the Western Conference Semi-finals (or last 8 of the playoffs) where they succumbed to the Colorado Rapids on penalties.
On paper, not that bad. With 16 draws in the regular season the most prominent issue, you might argue that another goal here or there could have made a world of difference.
Sadly, stats don’t always give the most accurate depiction of actual events and this is one of those cases where numbers paper over a lot of cracks.
If there’s one word that sums up the Galaxy’s 2016 season, it’s “inconsistency”. At times, they were breathtaking. Mercurial. At other times, it looked more like the opening episode of “I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out of Here!: Footballers in Hollywood Edition”.
There were a number of games where the team lacked any kind of cohesion. Early on, the assumption was that the players were still trying to gel. Five months on, that stops being a valid excuse.
Last time I did one of these, I used letter gradings. As this season resulted in a lot of ups and downs, that would result in too many “B-” or “C+” grades, which aren’t nearly nuanced enough to reflect my opinion of our squad. So here goes:
Brian Rowe (GK) 7.5/10:
Despite being with the club for a few years now, Rowe was a surprise package in 2016.
When Dan Kennedy first struggled for form, then fell away altogether due to injury, Brian stepped in and for the most part, seized his opportunity and played like he’d been first choice for years.
He wasn’t perfect. There were occasional gaffs. His performances were more “solid and reliable” than “spectacular”.
Nonetheless this was a breakout season and I’d be more than comfortable seeing him between the sticks as the Galaxy’s #1 for the foreseeable future.
Ashley Cole (LB) 7/10:
An aging player, known as “Cashley” in his native Britain due to his financially-driven defection from Arsenal to Chelsea and no stranger to controversy, his signing was viewed with certain unease.
The most remarkable thing about the deal given his reputation for chasing a payday, was that he didn’t come in as a Designated Player and would be earning the relatively modest annual some of $300k per year.
Fortunately, concerns about his motivation and physical decline, proved unfounded. While clearly no longer the marauding fullback of his prime, Cole settled in as a measured and dependable defender and if he doesn’t stay with the G’s beyond 2016, he leaves with a lot of credit.
Robbie Rogers (RB/LB) 6.5/10:
Robbie’s best season for the Galaxy came under the guise of a makeshift fullback. In the context of a winger whose best attributes had been stripped away by years of repeated injury, he was a disappointing signing for the club, who enjoyed a resurgence by making the best of a defensive reassignment.
Unfortunately for Robbie, it’s been a while since he transitioned to his now-regular fullback role and allowances for doing well in a strange positions are now expired. At this point, he’s a fairly mediocre fullback, who offers a modicum of link-up play going forward, though is devoid of his own end-product when he’s not just knocking the ball back to a winger.
Not terrible but not great either. There are better wingers and fullbacks out there for a similar price-tag.
Jelle Van Damme (CB) 8/10:
In a season of inconsistency, JVD was a rock of not just dependability but also a heady mix of drive, determination and swagger.
Certainly the club’s MVP for this season, he doesn’t score higher because as strong as he was for most of the year, he did have the odd flat performance and more importantly, sometimes he let the swagger take hold a little too much.
When there’s context for your center back to dribble past three players and when such a dribble ends in a solid end-product (nutmegging a fellow defender in the opposite box, en route to getting a delicious assist, is lore-making stuff) it’s impressive and entertaining. When you try it multiple times a game and at least a couple of the attempts end up with multiple opponents bearing down on an isolated Daniel Steres, not so much.
However, the man would and probably could, run through a brick wall for the Galaxy and was awesome in just about every aspect of the game, whether it be tackling, heading, anticipation or ball-playing.
A very good debut season.
Daniel Steres (CB) 6.5/10
After two strong seasons for LA Galaxy II, 2016 was a season of transition for Steres, moving up to the first team and finding his feet as the regular center back.
Making allowances for the step up, he had a decent, if not stellar season. It can’t be denied however, that he looked green at times. Not that the rotating collection of midfielders in front of him helped and while JVD was usually more of a help than a hindrance, I’m sure Steres didn’t thank him for the times those dribbles out of defence didn’t come off.
Steres’s full worth will be better assessed next season. With a term of regular starts under his belt, more will be expected of him in 2017. Just about satisfactory so far.
AJ DeLaGarza (RB/LB/CB) 6/10:
As a tremendous fan of AJ, I was a little disappointed this season. Some of that is on Bruce. Due to AJ’s size and style, he performs optimally in a well-cultivated defensive partnership. I’ll never understand why he Leonardo was often favoured over him alongside Omar Gonzales. His current role as a defensive utility player, is not the way to get the best out of him.
I get that his diversity at the back allows him to plug in whenever we need to fill a spot at the back. However, I feel he’d be far more valuable if allowed to develop a partnership with JVD. Failing that, at the very least he’s a superior fullback at the defensive end than Robbie Rogers.
Fingers crossed that he’s better utilised next season but I’m not holding my breath.
Baggio Husidic (CM/RW/LW) 6/10:
Baggio had a few really solid games alongside Sebastian Lletget towards the end of the season and bagged one of the best goals of the club’s season.
Beyond that, it was the same old Baggio: the mostly-adequate central midfielder who can do a job with better players around him but will likely be torn apart if paired with say, Jeff Larentowicz.
Jeff Larentowicz (CM) 5.5/10:
A mostly-adequate central midfielder who can do a job with better players around him but will likely be torn apart if paired with say, Baggio Husidic.
Why would we need two such players? Well we needed to get rid of Juninho and Sarvas to make room for Steven Gerrard.
Nigel De Jong (CM) 7/10:
Make no mistake about it: De Jong was one of the teams strongest players during his stint, no matter what MLSHQ might try to tell you.
The man’s caliber was there for all to see. A very effective defensive player, ball retainer and distributor. The fact that for all his poise and efficiency, his effectiveness was stunted by racing around covering for Gerrard’s flagrant disregard for positioning, says a lot.
He’d have scored significantly higher if only his stay hadn’t been so abbreviated and if he hadn’t missed a couple of hefty chunks of the season through some reckless behaviour. Indeed, I’m in no doubt that those suspensions at least played a part in the Galaxy being so open to letting him depart.
I have to wonder what could have been.
Rafael Garcia (CM) 5.5/10:
A mostly adequate midfielder who… oh you know the drill.
Relatively nondescript player who hasn’t really progressed from what he was a few years ago.
Hopefully, he’ll render Husidic and/or Larentowicz obsolete in 2017.
Sebastian Lletget (CM/LW/AM) 7/10:
After bursting on the scene in 2015, much of 2016 was laced with frustration.
As a creative attacking option for a team that was heaping dollars on Keane, Gio and Gerrard, he was shunted aside and used to plug gaps when such players weren’t available.
Outings on the wing or behind the forward throughout the season, saw him exhibiting technical flair but often struggling to produce an end product.
He finally got a more solid chance after De Jong departed and Gerrard got hurt. As a box-to-box midfielder, he suddenly performed to potential on both sides of the ball, raising questions of where this club might have been, had it not spent a season courting expatriate Liverpool fans by trying to crowbar Stevie G into the line-up.
Steven Gerrard (CM/AM) 3.5/10:
I’ll give credit where it’s due: Gerrard is a creative and technical player, capable of pulling off plays that most MLS players (or indeed players in most parts of the world) can only dream of.
Sadly, at this point in his career, the physicality is just not there to make good, consistent use of those skills.
That’s not to say he had universally awful games. There were a few outings where his talents came to the fore. They were almost exclusively games where Gerrard came on as a late sub, or occurred early in games where he was a ghost after the first half hour.
The biggest issue with Gerrard was how his presence impacted the rest of the team. LAG were giving him the big bucks and did everything they could to shoehorn him into the squad.
A criticism I’ve had of Gerrard for many years (particularly for England alongside Frank Lampard) is that he has been the heart of a team his whole career, that has been built around him. When asked to adapt to accommodate the play of others, he invariably struggles to do so (and all too often, it’s his counterpart that ends up looking bad).
This, coupled with the fact that he no longer has the fitness to be an effective player in his natural style, meant that the Galaxy midfield was often a void.
With De Jong behind him, it was a struggle. With a Larentowicz, Husidic or Garcia supporting him, it was open season for the opposition.
Given the players that have moved on to at least in part, facilitate his signing and/or presence, this move has been nothing less than a catastrophe.
Emmanuel Boateng (LW) 7/10:
Ema loosely typified the Galaxy’s season. The guy had some excellent games. His pace and verve were infectious at times, often spurring the rest of the team on to good performances.
Conversely, there were games where he wasn’t able to do much.
The guy certainly seems to have a strong upside and may become a key player in coming years. At present though, there is a little too much emphasis on pace for my liking. It serves him well at times but is also regularly at odds with his technique.
He’s also struggled to make an impact when defenders were able to cope with his speed. There were clear signs of progress throughout the season though, that will hopefully put him in good stead for the future.
Giovani Dos Santos (FW/WF) 6.5/10
If Ema loosely typified the Galaxy season, Gio embodied it.
The guy gets a bit of a dock in points due to his stature. He was brought in as a star player, to perform far and above the average MLS player.
At times he did precisely that. At others, he did anything but.
I blame the lions share of this on not having the right partner or role on many occasions. All season, Bruce persevered with Gio alongside Keane and it simply didn’t work. The players truly are too similar and on instinct, filled too much of the same space.
To Gio’s credit, I noted a conscious effort over the season to defer to Keane and work around him. Unfortunately, this isn’t Gio’s natural game. When Keane was out and Gio was empowered to play that game, the difference was staggering.
Given his age and talent level, the Galaxy needs to build around this player and focus on what optimizes his game. By the same token, Gio needs to step up with greater consistency.
Raul Mendiola (RW) 6/10:
The highly touted youngster had the kind of season you expect from a kid that is learning his craft.
We saw regular flashes of talent. Mendiola falls short of being a “wonderkid” but as he learns and develops he has a very promising future. If we see some of these aging “name” players depart, hopefully he’ll get a chance to fulfill his potential.
Robbie Keane (FW) 7/10:
A weird one for Robbie.
While he is deservedly beloved of the Galaxy faithful and in my view has already earned legend status, he does have a tendency towards histrionics.
That’s tolerable when you’re looking sharp and bagging goals week-in, week-out. It’s infuriating when you’re not playing that well and still stopping in the middle of play to give a teammate a rollicking because he delivered the ball to three inches away from where you wanted it.
He still scored regularly but was his play was at odds with Gio’s all season. The performances in general also saw a decline from what we’ve come to expect.
I’m a defender of MLS roster rules but they also mean that there are times when a team is forced to be ruthless about retaining or discarding players.
Based on his ongoing decline and incompatibility with the star LA is banking on for the future, our journey with Keano may be coming to a slightly bitter end, especially if rumors of his dissatisfaction at being on the bench are true.
Mike Magee (LW/CM/AM) 6.5/10:
Understandably not the Mike Magee of old.
He still conducted himself with the reliable intelligence we’ve come to expect but his pace has diminished somewhat and the moments of glory weren’t forthcoming this time around.
On the more disappointing end, his shooting boots seem to have deserted him. Fluffed a few decent chances over the course of the season.
Solid and efficient depth.
Landon Donovan (RW/AM) 6.5/10:
It’s hard to give him too high a rating due to the length of his spell. Initially coming back cold, with absolutely no football under his belt for 18 months, his play was understandably limited, even if he did manage to grab a vital goal in his second appearance back.
There were exciting signs of the old LD as we entered the playoffs though. Of course the question of whether it was a brief cameo to an underwhelming finale, or the start of a genuine comeback, has yet to be answered.
Alan Gordon (FW) 6.5/10
Like everyone else, Gordo had his ups and downs and while he still put in good shifts as an impact sub, the goals weren’t forthcoming.
Did his job as the hold up man that helped retain possession late in games. If he retires this season, he does so at a decent time, his talents having waned but not so much that he was a burden.
In fact, he’s just been called up to the US National Team…
Gyasi Zardes (FW/LW) 7.5/10
Gets a moderately high mark despite injury bringing his season to a premature end.
More than any player besides Brian Rowe and Jelle Van Damme, Gyasi maintained a steady, consistent level of play.
He’s a player who has grown well into his own skin, knows his weaknesses and plays to his strengths.
By far the player’s biggest asset is his brain. He reads the game well and knows exactly where to be.
His technical ability still leaves a little to be desired, though it has improved. This again, is largely because he’s learned what he can and can’t do and what he can afford to attempt at a given time.
That’s not to say he’s devoid of technique – his execution can just be a little erratic.
Nonetheless, his movement on and off the ball makes life easier for his teammates and is invaluable in rearranging opposing defenses.
He’s flawed and takes some harsh stick, but he could be a vital cog in 2017.
Well as I outlined in my opening: a season of fairly decent results with some very erratic performances.
The bigger picture though, is that the Galaxy could have been so much better.
There’s a lesson here about signing big name players and just assuming that because they were special in the Premiership at the age of 28, that they’ll be strong in MLS at the age of 35. There’s also a lesson about signing a Mexican star in his prime, without truly considering how he fits into the existing set-up.
I’ve a lot of hope for Gio. It’s a little tempered though: I don’t see a leader there. I think it will be down to others to keep the energy up and instill focus and drive in the face of adversity.
However, we’ve got several good looks at what this guy is capable of and if we can construct a team that compliments his abilities and accommodates his weaknesses, he could yet become a legend at this club.
Stevie G, who I have mercilessly bagged on here and elsewhere, I’m honestly disappointed about.
I don’t doubt for a second that he intended to do anything but succeed here. Unfortunately, we got him at exactly the wrong time and due to the tremendous salary (and indeed publicity) attached to him, tried to make it work.
All too often it didn’t.
So as harsh as I’ve been and as much a Liverpool legend as he is, I wish him well.
Bruce comes in for some stick here. While I’m sure he has certain pressure regarding star players, he’s also the guy who supposedly informed the FO that he didn’t want Ronaldinho, so he’s not without clout and I doubt he’s having rosters and lineups dictated to him.
With that in mind, he made some crucial mistakes in bringing in (or accepting) Gerrard in particular and arguably even acquiring Gio without considering the existing squad.
He certainly made some interesting moves in getting NDJ and Ashley Cole under the cap but a squad that looked great on paper, all too often were not.
Too many of those tied games, only avoided being losses due to some defensive heroics and a few hefty slices of luck. That a decent-but-not amazing set of results flattered this team, is a pretty firm indictment of 2016’s inconsistency, especially considering that the 2015 edition had some serious flaws to (notably it’s road performances).
What Bruce has achieved throughout his career certainly buys him breathing room and the results have certainly not been so dire as to even suggest dispensing with his services.
Nonetheless, this season has ultimately been an underachievement.
Final rating: 5.5/10