GALAXY 2012: 5 burning questions
1. CAN THE GALAXY REPEAT?Short answer: Of course, they can. But it won't be simple. They're better on paper than a year ago, with one notable exception (see No. 3), but the unbalanced schedule and immense quality in the Western Conference means that grabbing a third straight Supporters' Shield will be tough, especially if there's a dominant side (Sporting Kansas City or New York Red Bulls seem likeliest) in the East. Their stiffest opposition for MLS Cup could come from their former coach, Sigi Schmid, who has built a roster nearly as good up in Seattle.
2. HOW GOOD IS THIS ATTACK?
Really, really good -- at least on paper. Robbie Keane is, with New York's Thierry Henry, MLS's premier striker. Edson Buddle has twice scored 15 or more goals in this league. There's depth behind them. Adding Marcelo Sarvas to a midfield that already features Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Mike Magee and -- after it looked as if he were gone -- the talismanic Juninho is unfair to the rest of MLS. A group like this ought to average at least two goals a game.
3. ARE THERE GLARING WEAKNESSES?
Just one. Omar Gonzalez was the best defender in Major League Soccer last year, and he's going to be out until September, perhaps later, after shredding his anterior cruciate ligament in January in the first training session of a short-term loan to Germany's FC Nuremberg. There are only four or five backliners as dominant (or nearly so) in MLS, and none of them play for L.A. His loss cannot be minimized: It could be the difference between trophies and disappointment.
4. CAN DAVID BECKHAM STILL BE EFFECTIVE?
Fair question. He'll be 37 in May. But yes, there's no reason he shouldn't be. His one great weapon -- that fabulous right foot -- hasn't diminished with time, and his soccer intelligence is off the charts. He's committed wholly to the enterprise, has a perfect foil in midfield with Juninho, and his targets (not just Keane and Buddle, but Donovan and Magee, too) should finish what he creates. Even missing time for the London Olympics, he'll be the Galaxy's chief figure.
5. WHAT DEFINES SUCCESS?
With this lineup and what L.A. achieved last year, trophies are the only success. The Supporters' Shield means less with an unbalanced schedule, but that's certainly a goal. A CONCACAF Champions League crown would be spectacular -- and a bit of a surprise: Mexican clubs have dominated this competition, and they're in midseason form, unlike the MLS contenders. Ultimately, the MLS Cup is the biggest prize, and anything other than triumph is failure.