Los Angeles Soccer: Leonardo
CARSON -- Robbie Keane returned to training Friday with the Galaxy, just four days after wrapping up his involvement at the European Championship, and although he wishes he were in Ukraine preparing for a quarterfinal Saturday or Sunday, he says he's happy to be back.
And ready to go, should he be called upon for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with Vancouver at Home Depot Center.
“It's nice to be back amongst the lads and look forward to being involved tomorrow,” the Irish striker said following Friday's training session at HDC's Track and Field Stadium. “[I'm ready to] play as long as I can. I'd be happy to play 90 minutes.”
He's hoping to “get minutes under my belt tomorrow to sort of get all the stiffness out” as he looks to move on from a very disappointing Euro 2012 campaign. Ireland lost all three of its Group C matches, to Croatia, Italy and Spain, and finished last in the 16-nation tournament.
Asked what he takes from the Euros, Keane replied: “Nothing, really. It was a good experience. It was obviously great to play in the European Championship, but if you don't win ... sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say the team you played were superior than you were. Simple as that, really.”
It was a frightful group for the Irish, who are capable battlers without the depth or talent of the continent's powers, a roster that includes the Spaniards -- defending European and World Cup champs -- and the Italians and, on occasion, the Croats, too.
The gap might be growing between decent teams, such as Ireland, and “people like Spain, who's probably on a different planet at the moment [from] anyone else I've ever played against,” Keane said. “You're just basically chasing shadows for 90 minutes.”
The only positive for Ireland was the Green Army supporters, a jovial lot who charmed everybody and won great plaudits for serenading their team with the Irish folk song “Fields of Athenry” as Spain rolled to a 4-0 victory Monday.
“That's normal for Irish fans,” Keane said. “They've been fantastic over the years, and especially in Poland I think they've been a credit to the country in the way they behaved and the way they supported the team. That's how every team should be supported.”
CARSON -- Josh Saunders had a blast in his return to the field last weekend, and he plans to be ready to go when the Galaxy's Major League Soccer schedule resumes in another week and a half.
Confirmation came down Thursday: The Galaxy goalkeeper, who spent a month dealing with stress in the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program, has been cleared to return to action.
Saunders made his first appearance since April 21 in Saturday night's MLS Reserve League game at Portland, and it was like he hadn't missed a day. He looked good in a 2-1 victory, conceding only on a penalty kick.
“It was amazing. Obviously, it was emotional,” he said following Thursday's training session, the Galaxy's first after five days off. “That's where I began my career, playing professionally [for the Timbers when they were a second-division team]. I had a lot of family and friends up there, so it was good to get out there in front of them.
“Just get back on the field, and it felt natural. It felt like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.”
Saunders entered the SABH program April 27 and had limited contact with his team before joining it May 15 at the White House to celebrate last year's MLS Cup championship with President Obama. He was back in training six days later, still returning each day to the program facility.
“I was under some stress. I was putting myself under a lot of pressure. I just needed to step away ...,” Saunders said on May 22. “I was under some stress, had some family issues, wanted to deal with them on my own. We're humans. We have a life outside of soccer, and people forget that. I'm just happy to be in the state that I'm in now.”
He was cleared by doctors and apparently left the program before the game in Portland, and the Galaxy assumed -- but weren't certain -- that he was eligible to play for the first team. An MLS spokeswoman Thursday confirmed he has been reinstated.
He could make his return June 17 against Portland at Home Depot Center, the Galaxy's first game after MLS's two-weekend break for FIFA's international dates. That decision will be Bruce Arena's.
Galaxy forward Edson Buddle and midfielder/defender Dan Keat have undergone surgeries on the right meniscuses and are expected to miss three to six weeks.
That's the bad news for the struggling MLS Cup champions. The good news: An MRI disclosed no structural damage to defender Leonardo's right knee, which he reinjured during Saturday night's MLS Reserve League loss at Portland.
Buddle's surgery was performed Monday and Keat's on Thursday, the Galaxy reported. Team physician Bert Mandelbaum performed both in Santa Monica.
Buddle, who returned this season to the Galaxy after a year in Germany, has been slowed by his right knee all season. He has scored just twice in 14 appearances, 10 of them starts, and rarely looked like the striker who scored 19 goals and was an MLS MVP finalist in 2010.
Keat, a second-year holding midfielder the Galaxy is converting into a defender, hasn't played since going the full 90 minutes in central defense May 12 at Montreal. His knee injury was first disclosed a week later and forced him to miss New Zealand's first-stage matches at the OFC Nations Cup, the top competition in the Oceania Confederation.
Leonardo, who just returned from torn knee ligaments that sidelined him for 13 months, appeared to be more seriously injured after colliding with Timbers forward Sebastian Rincon eight minutes into the Galaxy's MLS Reserve League victory. He was in anguish as he lay on the Jeld-Wen Field turf, several teammates comforted him as trainer Armando Rivas tended to his knee, and he had to be stretchered off the field.
The Galaxy is listing the Brazilian center back as questionable with knee inflammation. There is no timetable for his return to training, but he is expected to sit out this week's sessions, which resume Thursday. The Galaxy's next Major League Soccer game isn't until June 17, against Portland at Home Depot Center.
Two first-half free kicks were put away by Leonardo and Chad Barrett as the Galaxy claimed a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers to vault from fifth to second place in the West Division standings with a 2-1 victory at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore. It's L.A.'s first win that counts since the April 21 MLS triumph at Colorado and the first of any sort since a reserve friendly three days later against the L.A. Blues, a span of nine games in all.
The biggest news was Saunders' first game appearance since entering Major League Soccer's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health treatment program at the end of April, but that was quickly overshadowed when Leonardo, just back from a devastating knee injury suffered 13½ months ago, appeared to reinjure his right knee after a collision in L.A.'s box with Timbers forward Sebastian Rincon.
There was no immediate diagnosis on Leonardo, who appeared anguished while lying on the turf, was comforted by several teammates, and had to be stretchered to the sideline.
The Brazilian center back tore several knee ligaments near the end of an April 2011 MLS game in Chicago, including the anterior cruciate and, worse, the lateral collateral, requiring two surgeries and an extended rehabilitation. He made a brief appearance in the April 24 game against the Blues, played a half in the May 8 Reserve League match with San Jose, was activated from the MLS Disabled List on May 18, made the 18-man game-day rosters (but did not play) for the last three MLS matches, and went the full 90 in Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup loss at the Carolina RailHawks.
He went down just five minutes after giving the Galaxy a quick lead, volleying home a free kick that Kyle Nakazawa curled toward the left post. L.A. got its second goal in the 30th, also on a Nakazawa free kick, from the right edge of the box. Jack McBean, beyond the far post, headed the ball into the goalmouth, and Barrett outleapt Eric Alexander to nod it home.
Alexander scored on a 69th-minute penalty kick for Portland after Rafael Garcia fouled Brent Richards.
Saunders, who remains in the SABH program but returned to training May 21, looked solid in his first action since April 21. He did well on crosses into the box, ably cut off balls meant for Portland's forwards and made all the saves he was supposed to make, none of them particularly difficult.
The Brazilian center back went the full 90 minutes, not by plan, in L.A.'s third-round loss in Cary, N.C., to the Carolina RailHawks, who will be home for next week's round-of-16 clash against Chivas USA, the third successive Southern California side the second-tier club will face in the nearly century-old competition.
That's about it on the plus side.
The Galaxy's season-long slide dipped a little deeper with the 2-1 defeat, in which they surrendered a lead for the third straight game and were beaten for the sixth time in seven outings. No, they didn't have their big guns -- only Chad Barrett, Leonardo and maybe David Junior Lopes among the first XI could be considered “starters,” and none are first choice at their positions. One of the lessons from an evening in which seven of 14 Major League Soccer clubs in action were eliminated by lower-division foes: Those who used virtual first-choice lineups won, and those who didn't lost.
It was more pronounced for the Galaxy, which had to spend all three substitutions on injuries -- one of them apparently significant -- and was unable to make tactical swaps nor pull off fatigued players as Carolina took charge down the stretch.
Hector Jimenez's demise was the low point. He had to be carted off, RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery on one shoulder, with a knee injury after a rough tackle near the end of the first half. He couldn't put weight on his left leg, and it looked serious. The Galaxy have provided no updates but he'll undergo a scan now that the team is back in Los Angeles.
Barrett left while cramping 20 minutes into the second half. Bryan Gaul, who like Jimenez has seen increased first-team time, left just before Ty Shipalane's 75th-minute equalizer after he was hit in the face during an aerial battle in the Galaxy box. His left eye was puffed up, but it appeared to be nothing serious.
“Three guys who have actually been playing game and three guys that would have been good to go 90 minutes,” midfielder Michael Stephens noted in his postgame media session. “It was really unfortunate, and I think you saw that. A lot of guys ran out of legs down the stretch.”
Include Leonardo in that group. He'd played just twice in games this spring -- 11 minutes in an April 24 reserve friendly against the L.A. Blues and one half in an MLS Reserve League game with San Jose on May 8 -- and was on the 18-man roster, but did not play, in the last three league games.
“Remarkable we got 90 minutes out of him tonight ...,” Arena said. “We didn't anticipate him playing that long, but once we had those injuries and we had to make all our changes, he had to stay in there. He did a good job. He obviously got tired at the end.”
Shriver, who scored four goals in the North American Soccer League club's second-round win over Irvine's PSA Elite last week, headed Shipalane cross at Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who made the save as he fell backward. The ball bounced in front, then skidded slowly over the goal line and into the net.
The RailHawks, who are winless in the NASL, will be home for next Tuesday's fourth round against the winner of Tuesday night's Ventura County Fusion-Chivas USA clash.
The Galaxy exit America's oldest and most prestigious knockout competition in their opener for the fourth time and the first since 2009. L.A. has lost four in a row -- the last three after giving away the lead -- and have dropped six of their last seven matches. Their winless streak in all competitions has reached eight games.
Pat Noonan, who wore the captain's armband, gave L.A. a 38th-minute lead from Chad Barrett's feed after Hector Jimenez stole a pass from RailHawks defender Austen King.
Shipalane scored from a feed by former New England Revolution forward Zack Schilawski in the 75th minute as Carolina, playing before a record crowd of nearly 8,000 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., took charge in the final 20 minutes.
The Galaxy, weary in their fourth game in 11 days, lost two players to injury. Jimenez departed just before halftime with a potentially serious knee injury, and left back Bryan Gaul leaving with about 20 minutes left after he was hit in the eye during an aerial battle in Carolina's box.
Noonan could have forced overtime deep into stoppage, but he fired over the crossbar after a Rafael Garcia feed left him one-on-one with former FC Dallas/Columbus Crew goalkeeper Ray Burse.
He'll be available for Saturday's SuperClasico against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center.
Fellow center back Andrew Boyens was placed on the DL with a sports hernia, will undergo surgery next week and faces four to six weeks on the sidelines, the club reported. The New Zealander must sit out at least six games before he can be activated for Major League Soccer play -- he could return for the June 30 game at San Jose -- although he can participate in U.S. Open Cup and MLS Reserve League matches and friendlies.
Leonardo, who was acquired in February on a free transfer after spending the last two seasons with L.A. on loan from São Paulo, started the first seven games last season before shredding several knee ligaments -- including the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral -- in the closing moments of a mid-April victory in Chicago last season. He underwent a second surgery late last fall and has been working steadily the past couple of months to return.
He made appearances in two reserve matches, going 11 minutes in an April 24 victory over the L.A. Blues and all of the first half in last week's MLS Reserve League tie with San Jose.
Arena on Thursday was asked why the Galaxy hadn't looked into acquiring veteran center back Danny Califf, who began his pro career with the club and was traded to Chivas USA.
“We have two center backs [Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez] coming back [from injuries] that are pretty good center backs,” Arena said. “Last thing we need is to fill the locker room with more center backs. We have two good ones that are hopefully going to play this year.”
He added that “Leonardo's real close” but wouldn't specify a target date to pull him off the DL, saying only that it would happen “soon.”
Leonardo has made 17 MLS starts while with the Galaxy, seven of them in shutouts.
Boyens, 28, was acquired in December's re-entry draft from Chivas USA, started three of the first five games of the season and has seen only reserve-team action since. He last played in last week's reserve game against San Jose.
Montreal-based website Soccer Plus cited “sources close to negotiations” in reporting Thursday that Del Piero, a 37-year-old striker leaving Juventus after 19 years, will join L.A. and finish his career in the United States.
The Galaxy, which does not comment on potential acquisitions, has all three of its Designated Player spots filled -- by David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- so Del Piero's arrival would require that one of them departs or that his salary comes in below the DP figure of $350,000, whether through contractual mechanisms or if paid down by allocation money. L.A. would have to discard at least one player to open a roster spot and free up cap space.
Del Piero is a beloved and universally respected figure in the Italian game -- he scored a club-record 289 goals in 704 games for Turin-based Juventus and played 91 times for Italy's national team, scoring 27 goals and winning the 2006 World Cup, in which he netted the second overtime goal to beat Germany in the semifinals -- and he's made no secret of his desire to play in America.
He told Sky Sport 24 in May 2011 that he might join the Galaxy when his Juve contract ran out this year.
“It could be a possibility,” Del Piero said. “It's a country I love so much, and I could also take the opportunity to go see the Lakers.”
More significant, perhaps, was Hector Jimenez's performance in a new position.
The second-year winger from Bell Gardens was terrific as right back, teaming with Michael Stephens on the flank as L.A. dictated terms nearly the entire match before settling for a 1-1 draw on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center.
Jimenez, who would be playing decent first-team time with a lot of Major League Soccer clubs but is caught behind L.A.'s deep, veteran midfield core, said he'd played as an outside back “toward the end of last year in a reserve game for a few minutes” but that this was otherwise a debut.
“I felt good,” he said. “I thought offensively I got involved a lot, it's just the defensive part, where I need to get used to checking the [restraining] line and stuff like that, but I thought I played good for the 90 minutes.”
Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who runs the reserve side, agreed.
“The interesting thing sometimes in sport is when through injury and that sort of stuff you end up shifting things around, and sometimes all of a sudden something pops up that maybe you haven't seen. And I think that's the case.
“If you look at his game and you compare it to when he plays in midfield, he had just as much an influence going forward -- or maybe even more. The combination of Mikey Stephens coming inside and [Jimenez] overlapping, I thought was good. Would have liked to see more goals from it. It was a game where we possessed and had really the majority of possession, the majority of play. It's a game where you think you're going to get three points from.”
CARSON -- Leonardo hadn't made a game appearance in more than a year, and if he's not quite ready to jump back into battle, he deserves some reward for the work he has put in rehabbing a nasty knee injury.
So the Galaxy's Brazilian center back was given a little more than 10 minutes in a closed-door friendly Tuesday against the L.A. Blues, his first action in an actual match since shredding all of his ligaments in his right knee -- anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments, the two worst to tear, included -- a year and a week earlier.
“Psychologically, it's great for him,” reserve-team coach Curt Onalfo said after his side held on for a 3-2 victory over the Blues on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center. “He had trained earlier [with the first team], and we wanted to get him in just so, psychologically, [we] can help him progress. It's been a long road, and he's really made progress, so it was good to see him out there for 10 minutes.”
Leonardo, who came on for Tommy Meyer in the 35th minute and played until halftime, is eligible to come off the disabled list for Saturday night's Major League Soccer match against FC Dallas at HDC, but he's still several weeks away, so the club is not ready to make that move.
“We're going to see how he progresses,” Onalfo said. “He's made significant progress, and now the next step is for him to train consistently and start getting more minutes and just more 11-v-11 type stuff. He's doing a good job. ... We want to get him back as quickly as possible. So hopefully in the next month we can incorporate him more and more in the stuff we do as a reserve team so he gets himself prepared to be with the first team.”
Leonardo, who was acquired on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010 and purchased outright before this season began, started the first seven games in central defense for the Galaxy last year. He tore up his knee while challenging Dominic Oduro in the closing minutes of a victory April 17 at Chicago, underwent surgery a week later and required an additional procedure last November after his rehab in Brazil hit a snag.
He returned to training with the first team last month and has several steps to take before he can begin battling A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Meyer and Andrew Boyens for time in central defense. This appearance was a significant step.
“I think it was a very important 10 minutes,” Leonardo, whose target to return to the first team is “maybe next month,” said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I need more playing time. I need more time on the field to get back. ... It's very different when you're out there 11 on 11 on the full field as opposed to the small-sided games I've been doing.”
Lopes, acquired in a trade Tuesday with Chivas USA, is a stop-gap measure for the Galaxy, which is awaiting the returns of center backs Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo from knee injuries.
Head coach Bruce Arena said as much.
“We're a little behind with Leonardo coming back,” Arena said after Thursday's practice at Home Depot Center. “Our plan was he was going to be ready in March, but he's going to need more time. ...
“He's a player if he gets back to where he was, we've got a good young center back in the league. You know, we have him under contract now [after he was with L.A. last year on loan from São Paulo]. Sometimes you have to do things for the long-term. I think Lopes is a solution for the short-term.”
Lopes is big (6 feet 3 and muscular) and strong and athletic and physical, and those qualities have been missing on the Galaxy backline with Gonzalez out likely until mid- or late summer because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Arena, who called Lopes “an interesting player,” said a decision would be made Friday as to what his role, if any, will be for Saturday night's game against the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center.
Whatever happens Saturday, Lopes will be asked to contribute quickly. He says he's coming into camp looking for a starting job.
“Absolutely,” Lopes said in Spanish through an interpreter. “The Galaxy is a great team, a team that's always winning, always getting good results. ... They have very good players and players with worldwide recognition, like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- they're obviously here because they are quality, and that's why I'm here, because I have some quality as well. I just need to get better every day so I can play for the club.”
After trolling Europe and South America following Omar Gonzalez's knee injury in January -- and after (we might expect) combing for viable options within Major League Soccer -- the Galaxy has settled, it appears, for a rookie and two rejects from down the hall.
If that's harsh, it's also true. Andrew Boyens' option was declined in December by Chivas, and his pickup in the re-entry process -- based on salary as much as anything -- was about adding depth after Gregg Berhalter's retirement and with Leonardo rehabbing a knee injury that will keep him out until at least the end of April. Lopes, who joined the Goats last August after stints in Croatia, Russia, Spain and Romania, had slipped to fourth or fifth on Chivas' depth chart at center back and wasn't on the game-day roster the past three matches.
They're the two most experienced options for the Gonzalez slot, but neither can step into the big Texan's shoes. Neither can Tommy Meyer, selected out of Indiana University with the final pick in the first round of January's MLS SuperDraft -- he has the most upside but the greatest learning curve.
Gonzalez's target date to return is early September, although he hopes to be back earlier, perhaps as soon as July. Until then, the Galaxy (1-3-0 in MLS action, 1-4-1 in all competitive matches) must make do -- and come through.
Arena called Lopes, acquired in exchange for Argentine midfielder Paolo Cardozo, “a big, strong center back” with “good athletic ability” who will provide “a little bit more physicality in that position that we haven't had.” All of that is so, and it's what could make the 29-year-old defender a valuable addition, even if he can't provide the kind of mastery of the position that has brought Gonzalez ample reward: MLS Defender of the Year last season, MLS Rookie of the Year in 2009, Best XI selections in 2010 and 2011.
Lopes is a specimen unlike any the Galaxy have at hand -- 6 feet 3, solidly built, with a physical side to his game that only Gonzalez can exceed. He's outstanding when he's on his game, but his decision-making isn't crisp and he too often commits dumb fouls.
He was ahead of Boyens in the pecking order at Chivas -- Lopes started seven of the Goats' final 11 matches after arriving from Romania's Universitatea Craiova; Boyens, who at 6-4 is taller than Lopes but has not nearly the bulk, saw 45 minutes across 19 games before an injury to Heath Pearce provided starts in the final four games.
Boyens and Meyer have split time next to A.J. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's usual partner, with less that satisfactory results, although the rookie fared fairly well in last weekend's loss at Sporting Kansas City. One of them figures to get the start Saturday night against Portland at Home Depot Center, but Lopes' physical dimensions probably win out going forward. At least until Leonardo has recovered his form.
CARSON -- Chad Barrett's sharpness in front of the net was the biggest plus for the Galaxy in their loss to Chivas USA in Monday's MLS Reserve League opener, and it opens the door to changes that might ignite L.A.'s attack in the real games.
Barrett, who started 27 first-team games last year but missed the MLS Cup final after a gruesome foot dislocation, tallied twice from Adam Cristman feeds in the 4-2 defeat and came close to a hat trick in the closing minutes.
“Just feels good to hit the back of the net in the run of play again,” Barrett said following the game on the Galaxy's Home Depot Center training field. “Haven't done a lot of that since I got back. Just getting the confidence and striking it. … Little disappointed didn't [get the third] at the end, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome.”
Barrett, who scored eight goals in competitive matches last season, returned to training in February and played in the final two preseason matches. He has started once and come off the bench in the other four Major League Soccer and CONCACAF Champions League matches this year. These were his first goals against opposition.
He might be the answer for a disconnected Galaxy attack. Despite Robbie Keane's public protests to the contrary, Edson Buddle has not built much chemistry with the Galaxy's Irish star, who had a nice on-field relationship with Barrett last year.
Buddle, who returned at the end of January after a year in Germany, delivered a superb through ball for Keane's goal in Saturday's loss to New England, but that kind of connection has not been evident often. One of the defining images of the 3-1 defeat was Keane angrily responding when Buddle, on a breakaway, fired wide from the top of the box with Keane open for a simple finish just to his right.
The problems up top are secondary to the troubles at the back, which were further illuminated by four Chivas goals -- three by Cesar Romero, who teamed with Miller Bolaños to dominate rookie center backs Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul -- after L.A. gave up 11 in their first five first-team matches.
“I wish I had a remedy for it. Unfortunately, I'm on the other -- attacking -- side ...,” said Barrett, who noted the Galaxy's defensive approach involves all 11 players on the field. “Right now it seems we've got a little but of lack of communication, lack of a sense of pride, both in the reserve game and the other games. We just don't have that same mentality, that same charisma we had last year, and that's something we need to find quick or we'll find ourselves at the bottom of the table, like we are now.”
CARSON -- The best news the Galaxy could hope for cropped up Sunday afternoon on Twitter.
“Great news!!!” defender Omar Gonzalez tweeted. “Rehab has been going so well that they moved up my return date: May 1st! #omarscomin' #ballin'”
Remember what day it is.
The Galaxy wishes Gonzalez could come back, good as new, a month from now, but it will likely be late summer at the soonest that the big center back, rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament, again steps onto the field.
Until then, who knows what happens. Gonzalez's tweet was a cruel joke: L.A. is in crisis without Major League Soccer's reigning Defender of the Year, as Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution so graphically illustrated.
The Galaxy won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup titles last year for several reasons, but the biggest was how well they defended all over the field. They've shown little ability to do so without Gonzalez, bleeding goals during preseason and conceding 11 already in five competitive matches. L.A. needed 11 games to surrender 11 last year, and four of those came in the debacle at Real Salt Lake.
“What's different is that we're not scoring and we're not keeping the ball out of our nets,” said center back A.J. DeLaGarza, whose failure to deal with Kelyn Rowe on New England's 10th-minute opener started the Galaxy toward their third loss in four Home Depot Center matches this year. “On both sides of the ball, we’re not clicking. They had three crosses and they had three goals, so that’s unacceptable and is something that we’ve been working on in practice over the last two weeks, 'cause we know we haven’t done well in the first 3-4 games. But today, it didn’t pay off.”
The Galaxy was utterly, curiously listless against the Revs, showing none of the spirit and little of the advertised advances they've made in their game in the two weeks since their lone victory in five games, over D.C. United. The interim was supposed to correct the problems exploited by Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal and by Real Salt Lake in the MLS opener.
“Two weeks off, 10 days off, six weeks -- it doesn't really matter,” said forward Robbie Keane, the Galaxy's captain in Landon Donovan's absence (because of a quadriceps strain). “Regardless of two weeks. If you have two weeks off or three days off or two days off, we shouldn't be conceding goals the way we've been conceding them. We have to rectify that, and we have to rectify that very, very quickly, because the goals we've been conceding are very, very similar to previous games.”
CARSON -- Things aren't particularly complicated with the Galaxy. They're expected to win, and anything less isn't acceptable, not after three straight Western Conference titles, back-to-back Supporters' Shields and last November's triumph in the MLS Cup title game.
The aim is the same and the side -- on paper, at least -- appears superior in every way except one, maybe two, with the returns of striker Edson Buddle and central midfielders David Beckham and Juninho, the additions of Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas and a few more veterans, plus the experience Robbie Keane gained in his first go-round in this most different and difficult of leagues.
Major League Soccer's hardware is again there for the taking, but the added firepower up front can't mask the big hole at the back. Backline leader Omar Gonzalez, the tall, terrific Texan who deservedly won the league's Defender of the Year honor in 2011, is out until at least September because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and effectively replacing him likely will be the cardinal determiner in whether this year's group can be as successful as last year's.
The mission, says Beckham, “hasn't changed. We want to be champion at the end of this season like we were last season. … You always have goals. You want to better the season before, and to do that, we have to go all the way again.”
The Galaxy went 19-5-10 in last year's regular season, then sprinted to four playoff victories -- capturing the title with a one-sided 1-0 victory over Houston at Home Depot Center -- to cap the club's finest campaign with its third MLS Cup championship. Only two teams, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena's D.C. United in 1996-97 and Houston in 2006-07, have repeated.
“It's always tough to keep hold of a championship and retain that. It's going to be no different for us,” Beckham said. “As long as we play our game and work like we did last season, then we have a chance.”
The additions of Buddle, back after a year in Germany, and Sarvas are significant, but other arrivals -- forward Pat Noonan, defender Andrew Boyens, midfielder Kyle Nakazawa and goalkeeper Bill Gaudette -- have added to L.A.'s depth. Buddle and Keane could be the most potent frontline partnership in the league, especially with Beckham's service, Donovan's contributions and right back Sean Franklin's advancing attacking acumen.
“Getting Edson back, there's not many teams that are going to make a better acquisition than that,” Donovan said. “And we were under the impression that we had lost Juninho [in a loan recall by São Paulo], and to get him back is a big plus, too. [We're] not a front six of guys that I would ever want to play against if I was an opposing defender.”
Replacing Gonzalez is key and quite tricky. The would-be replacement, Brazilian Leonardo, is still rehabbing his knee injury from last year. Boyens took the spot next to A.J. DeLaGarza, who must have a huge campaign, in Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Toronto FC. Top draft pick Tommy Meyer will be groomed to replace Gonzalez, who would soon be heading to Europe, injury or no injury.
Solidifying the backline will “be an ongoing challenge,” Arena acknowledges, but that's what must be done, especially with so many competitions -- they're trying to win one Champions League at the moment, and another starts in August -- on a thick schedule.