The Galaxy has spent just two days with balls at their feet, and already Landon Donovan is seeing something special.
He's still finding his footing, after his first prolonged rest in more than 2½ years, but as L.A. eases into its preseason schedule -- and with the March 15 Major League Soccer opener in Seattle still six weeks away -- the Galaxy captain sees big things on the horizon.
"I said yesterday to someone that this team is going to be more competitive than last year's, we're going to be deeper than last year, and overall in every position we have more talent and depth ...," Donovan said Tuesday after the club's second preseason training session at Home Depot Center. "[We have] the best balance that I've ever seen, certainly on this team and maybe in any team I've seen in MLS, from [player No.] 1 to 25.
"We're going to have a lot of players who aren't playing every week that would start on most teams, and we're going to have a lot of guys who won't make the [game-day roster of] 18 that might start on certain teams. That makes it competitive [here], and that makes us very good."
The Galaxy transitioned this week from a week of gym and fitness labor to on-field work, and all but two players -- David Beckham, training in London with Tottenham, and 16-year-old Jack McBean, with the U.S. under-17 team -- have arrived. Good thing: There are 11 newcomers among the 28 players on the roster, and there's much to do to build the chemistry necessary to live up to the kind of expectations Donovan's talk fuels.
How is it going so far?
"Good," head coach/GM Bruce Arena said. "Day two, you know. The usual in preseason. But it's nice to get the team back on the field and integrate the new players into the team. Obviously, it's a long process -- we're six weeks way from an opening game. We have a lot of time. There are going to be some ups and downs along the way. We know that. But we have a good mentality in the group, and we just want to work harder every day and get our team better and hopefully be able to put a good team on the field out there on March 15."
The biggest name among the newcomers is Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel, who says he relishes the responsibility to score goals -- he netted 61 in four seasons with the New York Red Bulls -- but will need time to adjust to a new team and new teammates.
"Little by little, it will happen," he said. "I mean, I've only been here two days, so we have the rest of February and the beginning of March to start building partnerships. Right now, the focus in on trying to be fit, get used to the ball again. Plenty of time to do the rest."
Donovan is in similar mode after more than two months off since the Galaxy's end-of-season friendly last November in Australia. He went on loan before the past two seasons -- to Bayern Munich in 2009 nand to Everton last year -- but this year took time off to heal and regenerate.
He said he was "tired," that "getting back into actual soccer takes time," and that "it's frustrating, 'cause I want to be playing better, but at the same time, it's good to start from scratch. ... I think we'll find out later in the year how [valuable taking time off is].
"It's hard, because you almost feel like you're starting from scratch, like you've never kicked a ball before, so it's frustrating now, but having this time to build my body into the place I want it to be is going to be very helpful, and considering all the games coming up this year [with an MLS schedule expanded to 34 games and the CONCACAF Champions League group games next summer and fall], I really need it."
How good can the Galaxy be? Arena says the goal, as always, is to win the MLS Cup championship next November, but he doesn't buy into Donovan's proclamation about L.A. being the most balanced team maybe in league history. Not yet, at least.
"I don't know whether that's true or not," he said. "I think in November we can talk a little bit more about whether this thing works or not. I think it's way too early to tell what kind of team we can actually produce. We've got to keep our focus, work hard and try to get better."
WORTH NOTING: Arena said a date has not been determined for Beckham's return to L.A. but that "he'll be back in February." His training spell with Tottenham was supposed to end Feb. 10, which likely would mean he joins the Galaxy as they head to Arizona on Feb. 13, but that appears uncertain. ... Forward/midfielder Miguel Lopez, a 21-year-old Argentine forward acquired on loan from Quilmes, has impressed in his first two days with L.A. He says his goals with the Galaxy are "to reach the highest level with the club as well as see a lot of minutes on the field, play a lot of games and gain a lot of experience." ... Ronaldinho isn't coming (signed with Flamengo in Brazil), and Claude Makelele was never coming (French media reported last month he was L.A.-bound, not that anyone took it seriously), but Arena says "it's always possible" another player, or two, could arrive. "We have a fairly full roster right now," he said. "We're not closing the door to anything. If there's ways of making our team better, we'd certainly consider."