CARSON -- You couldn't blame Edson Buddle for a twinge of envy as he watched his Galaxy teammates win a trophy half a world away. The big forward was such a massive part of the club's success leading to last year's MLS Cup title run, and his German adventure hadn't been everything he'd hoped it would be.
But what he most longed for was far simpler: the camaraderie of L.A.'s locker room.
Buddle, back in the fold, began his second stint with the club Monday, then declared that he was thrilled to be back at Home Depot Center and was looking to pick up right where he left off. What had he missed most while with German second-division side FC Ingolstadt?
“Just, well ... living in Germany, they don't speak English,” Buddle said, drawing big laughs during a news conference following Monday's training session at HDC. “Coming in and saying good morning, joking around and hearing the other conversations in the locker room: I think that's the beauty of being here. Everyone is quality, from the office, going through security to everyone. I miss that that most.”
Buddle, 30, re-signed Wednesday with the Galaxy, finding his way home after he and Ingolstadt mutually agreed to part ways and trials in England failed to draw contract offers. No regrets, he says, but very much “happy to be back.”
“Thankful for Bruce [Arena] still believing in me,” said Buddle, whose sunny disposition is a plus in any locker room. “Not a day in Germany that I didn't think about the Galaxy, [and I did] follow last season, watching MLS highlights. ... Even though I wasn't here, I'm close to these guys, and I felt like I was part of it, because I was cheering them on all year.”
Buddle, who figures to play in Tuesday's closed-door match against the Portland Timbers on L.A.'s training field, spent 3½ seasons with L.A., scoring 44 goals in all competitions -- 19 of them, including a pair to bury Seattle in the first round of Major League Soccer's playoffs, when he was a league MVP finalist in 2010.
The lure of Europe (and a salary about three times his 2010 MLS base salary of $178,448) was strong, so, out of contract, he signed 13 months ago with Ingolstadt. The Galaxy retained his MLS rights, and their efforts to replace him -- first with Juan Pablo Angel and then with Irish star Robbie Keane -- was one of the chief storylines of last season.
Should the Galaxy have made a greater effort -- offered Designated Player money, perhaps -- to have kept Buddle a year ago?
“We did our best to keep Edson, and perhaps we could have done more,” said Arena, the Galaxy's head coach and general manager. “But the reality is, on our part, we made a good offer, but Edson had some other great opportunities, and he wished to pursue them as well.
“If we had to do it all over again, sure. I would have agreed that maybe we could have done a little more.”
Can't complain about how it worked out -- the Galaxy won nearly everything they aimed for last year -- and Buddle with Keane could be the most explosive front pairing MLS has seen, especially with the kind of service David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Marcelo Sarvas can provide. Keane, probably MLS's best pure striker, is a savvy, probing forward adept at finding and opening space for himself and teammates. Buddle's speed and athleticism could be the perfect foil.
“Robbie is a player who likes to play underneath another striker, and Edson's a striker who likes to play up high,” said Arena, the Galaxy's head coach and general manager. “And Edson needs that kind of player [such as Keane] to play off of. [Buddle's] the kind of partner Robbie likes to play with.
“Edson's going to be very good holding the ball up, and that will allow Robbie to come into the game from deep positions.”
The expectations, enormous, don't bother Buddle, who says he wants “to do better than I did last time I was here” and that “nobody can put any more pressure on myself than I do.”
He's a stronger player, “a little bit wiser,” he says. His training regimen and appreciation for hard work grew at Ingolstadt, where he scored nine goals in 33 games but wasn't the consistent starter his numbers suggest he should have been. The club's fight to stave off relegation to Germany's third division, after surviving a tight battle last year, led to changes last fall that ultimately ended his association.
Ingolstadt's management told him in December that his services, and salary, were no longer wanted.
“Well, we kind of disagreed to agree,” Buddle said. “The team is at the bottom right now, and we've got a new coach, and he wants to bring in his own players. They're fighting right now, they're fighting to stay [in the 2.Bundesliga], and the coach has a lot of pressure there. ... I think we both agreed to go our separate ways, and it's in my best interests to find a better club.”
He had trials in England with Everton and, he revealed, West Ham United, then spent some time at Belgian first-division stragglers Westerlo, which wanted to sign him.
“If there wasn't a team in England or a good club, you know, I wasn't going to just stay [in Europe],” Buddle said. “If I were younger, maybe I would. But I think at this age, I want to be on a winning team.”
Is he back in MLS for good?
“I haven't really thought about it much,” he said. “I think this season is the most important to me. I really don't think about leaving, just having a good year and taking it from there.”