Donovan still key to L.A.'s success

January, 20, 2011

It is, quite simply, the most interesting team in MLS.

The Galaxy, I'm talking about here. And they've cemented that status with me with the official signing of Juan Pablo Angel this week. Coach Bruce Arena and the Galaxy are all-in now, three designated players on the field, and will be the team to watch in 2011.

Of course, a team that looks good on paper still has to prove it looks good on grass (or FieldTurf when it plays in Seattle or Foxborough) before it can say it's for real. And, for Arena, the challenge is going to be the same as it ever was.

To get the best out of Landon Donovan.

Because we learned last year that while David Beckham will hit the best dead balls in MLS until the day he hangs up his boots, the Galaxy were just fine without him. I could probably argue that the one move that didn't go in L.A.'s favor this offseason was that Beckham didn't find his way back to England, not just on a transfer, but for good.

For me, Beckham's time in MLS has run its course. He came, he sold shirts and tickets, he scored from the midfield line, and I don't think there's much left for him to give to L.A. or to MLS. Don't take that commentary as "Beckham is a dog," because I don't feel that way at all. I've always felt that for all the star quality Beckham brings off the field, on the field he's pretty much a blue-collar player. It's just that L.A. might be better off with a guy in Beckham's spot who's capable of covering more ground and is just a bit hungrier.

I could say it's Beckham's age, but he and Angel are both 35. Which brings us back to Donovan.

At the time of the Beckham signing, I was pretty well ridiculed for writing that as big of a signing for MLS as Beckham was, Donovan was still the best and most important player on the Galaxy. All these years later, it's still the same for me. I like Arena's acquisitions, including 36-year-old Frankie Hejduk. And I think Chad Barrett is a great project for Arena and assistant coach Dave Sarachan. Barrett has some talent. I like Adam Cristman.

But the Galaxy in 2011 go as far as Donovan carries them. It's a decade-old song now, but no one in this league creates as much as LD -- when he's right. No one in this league ignites a team like LD -- when he's right. And what about when he's just a bit off? That's when the Galaxy start to look a lot like the rest of MLS.

And not nearly as interesting.



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