Empire XI: Time Has Caught Up to Bruce Arena and the LA Galaxy

Photograph by LAGalaxy.com

Christian Araos
Staff Writer

The only opponent a team or an individual cannot beat is time. Sure, you can compete with it for awhile, but ultimately, time wins.

In life, that is a rather morbid thought process to have — and not a recommended one to possess. In professional sports, however, it is a little more ambiguous. Time forces change and that may be the case with the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy are MLS’ most consistent team. This is a team that still has the core group of players that got the team to three out of the last four MLS Cup Finals, led by a coach who guided the US Men’s National Team to its best finish since 1990. Bruce Arena and the Galaxy earned the right to have high expectations for themselves, and they were the first to admit that they did not meet those expectations in their loss to the Colorado Rapids, but their admission shrouds the uglier, likelier situation facing the club; they cannot meet their own expectations.

Success allows for a team to have a bigger shadow. That shadow, also known as stature, is a powerful thing for a team to have because it is intangible. It sets a standard for the club to live up to and intimidate opponents. However, it is a fragile thing that can quickly erode if an opponent were to score a key win. Case in point, Real Salt Lake eliminating the Galaxy in last year’s playoffs.

The Galaxy were the best team in the West for three years, and in the fourth, they finished fourth, but still won MLS Cup. All that made the Galaxy … well … the Galaxy. You always knew they would find a way to win and you could not say a single damn thing about it.

Except now the Galaxy are not finding ways to win, and it is not completely out of the question to look at the Western Conference Standings now and see the Galaxy where they are and not be all that surprised.

Six players from the starting XI for the Galaxy in the 2011 MLS Cup Final are still with the club. Five of them started on Saturday with Todd Dunivant only missing out due to injury. None of those six players are currently above the age of 33, so time’s natural effect is muted in this case. However, time has a way of manifesting itself financially. In professional sports, time is measured in contract years. Such is the case with Chris Birchall and Sean Franklin; two players who were instrumental in making the Galaxy who they were.

Both of these departures resonate more than Mike Magee‘s departure. In Birchall’s case, the Galaxy’s midfield became thinner with Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho playing 32 and 33 games respectively last season. Sarvas is now injured and out for a month while Juninho nearly gave away a goal playing at the base of Arena’s midfield diamond last Saturday.

The only natural central midfielders left for the Galaxy are Juninho, Baggio Husidic and Kenney Walker who has not played for the Galaxy’s first team since 2012.

The Galaxy’s defensive issues in the season’s early going have been well-chronicled, and part of that has to do with the instability created by Franklin’s departure. James Riley, A.J. DeLaGarza and Dan Gargan were the only experienced full backs left on the roster for the Galaxy, and with Riley gone until September, they are left with DeLaGarza playing at left back and Gargan at right.

Gargan has not been a first team regular since the 2012 season. While the Galaxy have improved themselves defensively in recent matches, this pre-World Cup stretch will finally help us reach a sample size where we can see if this defense is as good as their less-than-a-goal-allowed-per-game status in MLS right now or as bad as they were against Club Tijuana.

As for Arena, time erodes even the most well-crafted sculptures. There is no denying that Arena built something special with the Galaxy to make them a perennial contender; a team that always had a little bit more than just starpower to rely on. Now, the time comes for Arena to restore his sculpture before it is too late. It is not panic time for the Galaxy because they still should make the playoffs but there are better teams in the Western Conference that can quickly bury them.

Arena is going to have to retool this club. To be fair, he has had success in doing that. The Christian Wilhelmsson signing is a great example. However, with the Galaxy near the salary cap with all three designated players filled, Arena’s options are limited.

Such is life in a salary cap league like MLS where the amount of time left on a dynasty is measured by how closely they can maneuver their way around the financial ceiling.

Empire XI

1. So we are at the point in the Raul negotiations where the New York Cosmos are issuing non-denials. In other words, start saving up for a new jersey, or for some tickets. After all, that’s what the organization is banking on with signings of this ilk, much in the same way some MLS teams go for big names with their DP signings, particularly in the rule’s nascent days.

2. It does look like the Cosmos are going to always have the willingness to go for the big-name signings, but there are two organizational risks that have to be assessed in every big-name signing: finances and team chemistry. How much of a financial return are the Cosmos going to get for every big-deal signing? These signings are going to be a loss (most big name signings in football are) but how much of a loss is what matters in the long term. If it becomes evident that the Cosmos are simply not going to recoup an acceptable portion of their outlay (salaries and potential transfer fee) for these players, their owners must re-evaluate their plans to build this squad.

3. The other issue is team chemistry. This is not necessarily like the issues depicted in Once in a Lifetime but more similar to Real Madrid’s Galacticos era. The principle negative about that era was the disconnect between the Galacticos and the Canteros; Real Madrid’s young players. While the Cosmos do not have homegrown players, they do have players whose reputations and salaries will never match that of Raul or Marcos Senna. If Raul does not perform at a level befitting his likely high salary for the entire length of his contract, there will be reason for criticism from those outside of the franchise and resentment amongst those inside of it; especially if Raul’s signing means a first-team player has to go.

4. Gideon Zelalem is in the US to pick up a passport according to Steven Goff at the Washington Post. If he becomes a US citizen and commits to the US National Team, the US’ attack identity will begin to change. Zelalem, Julian Green, Darlington Nagbe (assuming he finalizes US citizenship) and Luis Gil are all players we should expect to see in the 2018 World Cup cycle. They are players who are best suited playing in a system that is less direct but allows for skill players to take defenders on 1v1. The US relies on more direct, team-based attacking moves so while the next generation of the USMNT will be one of its most skilled, the onus will be on Jurgen Klinsmann to make the next generation successful as well.

5. According to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Klinsmann will name his 30-man roster next Monday. It will be curious to see if the preliminary roster is balanced in terms of outfield players. Assuming that only three goalkeepers are named, there would be 27 spots left. Obviously, the most balanced the roster could be is if there are nine defenders, nine midfielders and nine attacking midfielders and forwards. The overall versatility in the player pool may allow Klinsmann to choose fewer defenders, although that may be something he considers in naming the final roster.

6. Two defenders Klinsmann should consider for the 30-man roster: Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler. Ream is on Klinsmann’s radar and would have participated in the Ukraine friendly had it not been for the birth of his child (Sorry WFAN, that’s a valid excuse to miss a game, even if it is in a World Cup year). He was named Player of the Year by both Bolton Wanderers and by the Bolton Wanderers Supporters Association. Awards aside, Ream has become a reliable defender capable of playing anywhere along the backline.

7. Chandler has returned to full action and reappeared in the national team conversation in large part due to Klinsmann giving him a mention on Twitter. However, Chandler played the full 90 minutes for Nuremburg in their loss to Hannover last weekend. Nuremburg need a point to have any chance at avoiding the direct drop but the best they can hope for is a place in the relegation playoff.

8. World Cup squads! Here’s Bosnia’s full roster and Honduras’ provisional roster. Former Saint Louis University striker Vedad Ibisevic is on Bosnia’s roster. Former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza is on Honduras’ along with Houston Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia. Honduras’ roster is not final as Head Coach Luis Fernando Suarez will add seven players to the roster on May 20. Germany’s 30-man roster will be named on Thursday and Mexico’s 23-man roster will be named on Friday.

9. Claudio Reyna was a little late in appearing on Soccer Morning on Monday, but nonetheless, New York City FC’s Sporting Director was pretty general and grounded in describing the team-building process that he is undertaking. Subtle takeaways: do not be surprised if the Mix Diskerud rumors intensify after Reyna made sure to mention Americans playing abroad as potential targets. There will be more on the academy front and it looks like that infrastructure will be developed concurrently to the first team infrastructure. Also, the 2015 SuperDraft will have to be a success for NYCFC in terms of finding players ready to contribute right away, instead of long-term prospects.

10. Je-Vaughn Watson’s red card may have helped the New York Red Bulls secure a solid win against FC Dallas but the suspension that will come could not have come at a worse time for Dallas who are already depleted with Mauro Diaz, Michel and Kellyn Acosta all injured. Stephen Keel was rested on Sunday and he will be the direct replacement for Watson in the center of defense but assuming Watson is suspended multiple games, Dallas will only have three center backs available for a good portion of their upcoming six-game stretch to close out the month of May.

11. Liverpool‘s collapse against Crystal Palace is a microcosm of their season. An offensive outburst so powerful that we convince ourselves that they may surge away with the Premier League title. They won 11 straight matches scoring 40 goals in that span in a burst as powerful as a great race horse’s burst on the far turn. However, the burst came just too early. Easy for us to say that with hindsight but that was the case with Liverpool, who would have recorded the second-longest winning streak in Premier League history had they won out.