CARSON -- The Galaxy made a significant move in defense of its Major League Soccer titles Wednesday, bringing home striker Edson Buddle from Europe and trading for midfielder Kyle Nakazawa, a former UCLA All-American from Palos Verdes.
Buddle's acquisition is huge, giving the Galaxy the tools to present an attack unrivaled in MLS annals while probably defining, no matter what Bruce Arena is willing to acknowledge, first-choice roles in midfield and on the backline.
How big is this? The Galaxy might have just won another championship.
Buddle, who scored 44 goals in 3½ seasons with the Galaxy before departing a year ago to play in Germany, returned to Southern California on a free transfer after second-tier FC Ingolstadt released him Tuesday from his contract. L.A. had retained his MLS rights.
“It's nice to have Edson back,” Arena said following Wednesday's training session at Home Depot Center. “He's going to be a good addition to our team. ... We've been in contact with Edson's representative for a while, and we've always made him aware of the fact that if the opportunity presented itself where he could come back, we'd sure like to get him back.”
Buddle, 30, scored 94 MLS goals in 10 seasons with Columbus, New York, Toronto FC and the Galaxy, and he was a league MVP finalist and Best XI selection in 2010 after scoring 17 goals as the Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield and two more in the first-round playoff series victory over Seattle. He's twice hit double-figures in goals and scored nine on two more occasions -- and netted nine in 33 appearances for Ingolstadt.
Buddle, who played in the 2010 World Cup, is fast, athletic and, at 6-foot-1, has good size. Throwing him up top with Irish star Robbie Keane (who was acquired in August to replace Juan Pablo Angel, the man who replaced Buddle), with Landon Donovan and David Beckham right behind them, gives L.A. the league's most explosive attack -- perhaps ever.
“Hopefully, it's going to be good,” Arena said. “Obviously, he's not going to have much time to work with Robbie. Robbie's getting here kind of late [joining camp in early March after a loan spell at Aston Villa]. I anticipate over time, it'll be a good group.
“We're real pleased with the [forward] contingent we have here, with [Chad] Barrett and [Pat] Noonan and [Adam] Cristman and [Jack] McBean, as well, so we'll have a number of options there. And we'll need it. For the schedule we have, we'll need to be deep in that position.”
Buddle's old teammates were pleased to hear the news. Donovan, the Galaxy's captain, tweeted from England: “Welcome home TeddieBless!!!!!!!!!!! Great day for the @LAGalaxy !!! Love that guy and can't wait to play with him again.”
“We're thrilled to have him back,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “We know what Edson can do, and he's comfortable here -- it's going to be a big plus for us.
“[Buddle and Keane together] is scary. We have a lot of attacking power. We have a lot of options. I don't think we're going to change our style too much -- we're still going to be a team that wants to be hard to be broken down and kind of bases everything, our core, around our defense and our defensive workrate. If we can keep doing that, Edson and Robbie will punish teams.”
Arena last week said the Galaxy had more allocation money, used to pay down salary-cap figures, than it had in his previous three seasons in charge, but there's no word -- and none expected -- on how much is left for acquisition of a top central defender.
Buddle, who was making in Germany about three times more than his 2010 MLS base salary of $178,448, left cash-strapped Ingolstadt in December and had trials at Everton, where Donovan is on loan, and in Belgium with KV Westerlo, who offered a contract.
“I am thrilled to be able to return to MLS and a club that has meant so much to me in my career,” Buddle said in the statement issued by the Galaxy. “When I left for Germany last winter, I said that I hoped to be able to one day return to the Galaxy and help lead the club to an MLS Cup championship. That day is today and I look forward to the challenges that now lie ahead.”
Arena said he hoped Buddle would be in camp Monday.
MIDFIELD DEPTH: Nakazawa, 23, arrived in a trade from Philadelphia. The Galaxy gave up one of its international slots, used for foreign players, and also acquired a second-round draft pick next year.
The skilled midfielder from Palos Verdes Estates (Penisula HS) trained with the Galaxy during his time at UCLA. He made 36 league appearances in two years with the Union, starting 22 games.
“I think he's a good young player,” Arena said. “I've followed him closely for years, obviously at UCLA and with Philadelphia. He's a player we've always wanted to have here at the Galaxy, and I think it's great to have one of our local players come back as well.”
Nakazawa adds to the depth in midfield, joining Marcelo Sarvas, Michael Stephens and Dan Keat as players who can slot next to Beckham -- or into his place. With Sarvas ineligible for the Galaxy's knockout-stage games in the CONCACAF Champions League, Arena needs multiple options in the middle.
The Galaxy's first-choice lineup is taking shape. With Buddle and Keane the likely starters up top, Donovan remains on the right side of midfield -- with freedom to roam, of course -- which keeps Sean Franklin at right back. That would leave A.J. DeLaGarza in central defense, a position he owns as long as Omar Gonzalez is out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The biggest question this preseason: Who will play alongside DeLaGarza in the middle?
Arena doesn't see things this way at all, or at least he won't say so.
“This says the best 11 players we can put every game, we're going to do,” he said when asked if Donovan was now set for the midfield role he played last season. “That's all we're going to say. This doesn't paint us into any corners.”
With a minimum of 41 games on the schedule -- 34 regular-season, six in two Champions League competitions, a U.S. Open Cup third-rounder -- and expected departures by Keane for the European Championship and Beckham for the London Olympics, the Galaxy will need all of its roster if it hopes to win the Supporters' Shield for the third straight year and repeat as MLS Cup champion.
On paper, this is a better team than last year.
“Paper's not worth anything. I'll be glad to tell you that. It doesn't mean a damn thing,” Arena said. “[The roster] has the makings of being a good team, but we've got to get it done on the field, and we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
WORTH NOTING: Buddle will wear his old No. 14, with Keane switching to No. 7. ... Beckham is in London, where he launched his new “Bodywear” underwear line with H&M. He told media his sons' response to another ad campaign in which he appears virtually naked was “oh my God, Daddy, not again. They were like, 'That's really good, but everyone's gonna see you in your [under]pants.' ” ... Nakazawa could be in training with L.A. on Thursday. He's the fifth Bruin on the roster, joining Barrett, Stephens, goalkeeper Brian Perk and defender Sean Alvarado. ... Supplemental draft choice Yuri Gorentzvaig, a Brazilian forward, has been released from camp, a victim of the Nakazawa deal. ... New Home Grown Player signing Jose Villarreal (Inglewood/Leuzinger HS) will undergo surgery Monday for bilateral lower-leg compartment syndrome, an exisiting affliction apparently discovered by Galaxy doctors, and be sidelined six weeks. ... Second-year defender/midfielder Dustin McCarty is slowed by a hamstring pull. ... The Galaxy's preseason opener Friday against L.A. Blues will not be open to the public. The club has not decided whether to open its remaining preseason games at HDC.