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Sunday, March 13, 2011
GALAXY 2011: Five pivotal players

By Scott French

David Beckham
David Beckham, in the final year of his Galaxy contract, will have one more chance to win a MLS Cup.

If the Galaxy is going to win, or even contend for, trophies in 2011, they'll need big performances from this quintet:

LANDON DONOVAN

The Galaxy's chief on-field figure says he wants to be more dangerous in front of goal than he was last year, when he scored just eight goals (after hitting at least a dozen three of the four previous seasons -- 20 in 2008 ) and slowed considerably as the season neared its climax. He'll most often be on the left flank again, with permission to roam, and will need to play provider and contribute defensively, too. The wear and tear showed when the postseason arrived last fall, but a winter off (after loans to Bayern Munich and Everton before the past two campaigns) has him feeling stronger than he has in years.

JUAN PABLO ANGEL

The big striker might need some time to settle in. He's still working on chemistry with Donovan, David Beckham, the central midfielders and the allotment of forwards he'll partner -- and his family isn't going to join him SoCal maybe until May. He's scored goals everywhere he's played, and he'll need to be deep in double figures for L.A., given the service he can expect. As crucial will be his ability to pull defenders and open space for, especially, Chad Barrett, whose finishing rate must improve.

DAVID BECKHAM

We've rarely seen a fit, healthy Beckham in a Galaxy shirt, but if he can avoid major injury, he's certain to make a massive impact. There's no questioning his effort, and there is no better crosser in MLS -- there are only a few at his level on earth -- and those crosses should lead to more goals with Angel now the primary target. That Becks provides so much more, by connecting teammates, providing defensive support, with free kicks that aren't always as deadly as advertised (and let's not forget marketing and merchandising), and he could be as valuable as his critics desire.

OMAR GONZALEZ

The big central defender was honored as a Best XI back last year, but he needs to take another step forward in year three. Yes, he's great in the air -- at 6-foot-5, he'd better be -- and there's a finesse to his game, but he could be tougher and more physical and needs to be if he's going to become a dominant defender in MLS, continue to stride toward a national team career and open doors to overseas possibilities.

CHRIS BIRCHALL

The Englishman always demonstrated an attacking sensibility when he was the choice in central midfield, but he has nowhere near the bite that Dema Kovalenko brought and was a role player off the bench during the playoff run. Kovalenko is gone, retired after declining L.A.'s reduced-pay offer, and Birchall will get every opportunity to make the job his own. There might be no more pivotal role on a soccer field, and his ability to grow as a defensive stopper could have great bearing on how far the Galaxy goes.