Plethora of Young Attackers Could Be Problem For LA Galaxy

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In the words of the MLS Armchair Analyst, “fear the LA Galaxy and fear the Galaxy academy.” The Galaxy academy is consistently in discussion as one of the best in the country. The creation of LA Galaxy II, the Galaxy’s USL Pro affiliate, set the club up for improved development of their young So Cal talent for the foreseeable future. “Los Dos,” as they have been nicknamed, finished third in the table last year and made it to the semifinals of the USL Pro Championships.

While all may look well for the Galaxy (MLS Cup, Steven Gerrard, Los Dos), there’s a potential problem on the horizon. Most of their talent in the reserve team are forwards. Many of those players are from the Galaxy academy. With the current front office in place, LA is always going to have three DPs, and one of them will probably be a striker. Once Robbie Keane retires, they’ll find another world class forward. That leaves all this attacking talent to fight for one starting striker spot.

With 15 goals in the regular season and getting a call up to January Camp, that spot belongs to Gyasi Zardes for the foreseeable future. As these players continue to develop with Los Dos, they’ll become MLS ready. But there might not be room for them. The Galaxy can’t let this talent walk away for nothing after having invested so much in their academy. They also have an aging starting line up, and will have other offensive roles to fill in the coming years.

How then does LA develop these players and make room for them or get proper compensation? Let’s break it down, one prospect at a time:

Bradford Jamieson IV: (20, 165 lbs, 6′ 1″, Turned Pro in 2014)
LA Galaxy: 2 caps, 0 goals
Los Dos: 18 caps, 6 goals

Jamieson is probably the most highly sought after prospect of the bunch. He is currently with the US U20 team in the CONCACAF Champioships. When Samuel and Rob Friend didn’t pan out and Bruce Arena turned to Gyasi Zardes as the new starting strike partner for Robbie Keane, Jamieson started making the 18 as a sub. He made a few appearances. Fans saw flashes of greatness, and youthful inexperience. The Galaxy eventually traded for Alan Gordon, and Jamieson resumed play with Los Dos.

Jamieson is a dynamic forward. He’s more of a channel runner than a pure hold up forward by nature, and is a decent passer. I do wonder how that will transition to the next level as he graduates from Los Dos into the first team. With his skill set, he could certain shadow Robbie Keane in the underneath striker role and soak up knowledge like a sponge. With how talented this kid is, he’s either going to force his way into the squad or the Galaxy are going to be forced to move him because of interest elsewhere. He might even get some calls from overseas.

Prediction: Another year with Los Dos, then Keane’s primary sub/back up OR sold to an interested European team (probably not a team from the Big Four though). After that will depend on Keane’s eventual DP replacement and how well Jamieson and Zardes play together on the field.

Charlie Rugg: (24, 175 lbs, 6′ 0″, Turned Pro in 2013)
LA Galaxy: 4 caps, 1 goal
Los Dos: 25 caps, 8 goals
Indy Eleven (2014 loan): 5 caps, 1 goal

The Boston College Golden Eagle was the Galaxy’s 1st round pick in the 2013 SuperDraft (19th overall). He’s probably also the at the bottom of this list in terms of long term potential as is past his prime development years as a player at the age of 24. He wasn’t exactly a stud striker in college either. He was second in scoring for Los Dos in 2014 (Chandler Hoffman lead with 13 goals in 17 appearances).

Rugg looks like a 3-4 year project for Bruce Arena’s coaching staff. He could spend another year or two with Los Dos, maybe go on loan to another USL Pro team or even a lesser MLS team. In watching him, I just don’t see him amounting to more than a back up forward. He’ll make 18 if someone gets hurt, but that’s about it. He could thrive in that role, but he could probably find more minutes on another team.

Prediction: Gets cut by the coaching staff or leaves under own power in 1-2 years. Finds a bench role at a different MLS team or starter at a lower level.

Jose Villarreal: (21, 160 lbs, 5′ 8″, Turned Pro in 2012)
LA Galaxy: 32 caps, 3 goals
Los Dos: 2 caps, 0 goals
Cruz Azul (2014 loan): 0 caps, 0 goals

Villareal went on loan to Cruz Azul from December 2013 – August 2014, so we didn’t get to size him up with the others on this list. Villareal’s been in and out of the lineup for a few seasons now. He’s split time as an underneath forward and a central midfielder. His versatility could be what helps him break through this season. While he’s made plays that show his potential at times, his finishing still hasn’t sharpened enough to warrant regular minutes at forward. The willingness to go on loan could also be a sign of frustration that he hasn’t gotten minutes.

With the lack of bench depth in the midfield with Sarvas’s departure and Gerrard not arriving till the summer, Villareal is going to get a shot at some point this season. We could see him in the midfield, in a CAM role, possibly on the wing. If he gets time at striker, it’s as a late sub when the Galaxy are chasing the game and need some energy.

Prediction: Splits time with Los Dos and the first team about 50/50 this year. Arena tries some experiments at different positions. If it works, he joins Walker, Meyer, and potentially Jamieson as the young role players for the Galaxy and will be in consideration as a future core starter. If it doesn’t work out, he could leave under his own power in a 1-2 years, possibly for Liga MX.

Jack McBean: (20, 175 lbs, 6′ 0″, Turned Pro in 2011)
LA Galaxy: 17 caps, 2 goals
Los Dos: 26 caps, 5 goals

McBean is still the young pup of this group. Having signed his first professional contract three years ago, he’s living proof just how badly the Galaxy needed to create Los Dos. He benefited tremendously from it last year. It will be paramount to his development.

McBean is your quintessential #9. He’s decent with his head in the air and an above average passer for his position and level of experience (he had six assists for Los Dos, 2nd on the team). He doesn’t appear to be that physical of a player. He’ll need to work on that; it’s helped other target forwards in the league (the Bash Brothers, Blas Perez, Conor Casey, etc.). That will come as his play grows into his body.

He’s still needs to sharpen his skills in USL Pro before he’s ready for regular minutes in MLS. It’s no accident LA’s other center forward is an established veteran like Alan Gordon. Like Keane with Jamieson, McBean needs to shadow Gordon. Learn how to be better at Route One soccer and hold up play. Get more physical. He won’t make the 18 with regularity as long as Gordon is in LA. If Zardes develops better #9 skills, McBean could be stuck strictly as a bench player as long as he’s in LA. This could cause a tug of war as he’s one the better academy-produced center forwards out there.

Prediction: Spends the next two seasons playing heavily with Los Dos. Gets the occasional start or sub role in Open Cup and CCL group matches or if Gordon goes down. Once Gordon retires, he’s the go-to #9 for the Galaxy if he’s willing to accept not starting regularly. If not, he’ll get traded to another MLS team, where he be given the opportunity to start. I definitely see him succeeding as an MLS glue player.

Raul Mendiola: (20, 150 lbs, 5′ 8″, Turned Pro in 2014)
LA Galaxy: 3 caps, 0 goals
Los Dos: 20 caps, 2 goals

Unlike his other academy products, Mendiola fits a central play-making role in addition to being a forward. When he’s a striker, he’s certainly a second forward. He led Los Dos in assists with seven in 2014, fourth best in all of USL Pro. By the eye test, he was by far the best chance creator for them. While still an attacker in style, a full conversion to a CM #10 role would fit his skill set better and fill a future need for the LA Galaxy.

Mendiola didn’t show a particular weakness in his game. To get to MLS, he just needs to improve his game a little bit everywhere. 2014 was his first year as a professional, so there’s plenty to be excited for once he gets more games under his belt. Mendiola is eligible for Mexico in international play. Like Paul Arriola, he’s probably been contacted by a Liga MX team or two. Choosing to stay with the Galaxy is a good sign he’s happy where he is.

Prediction: Another 1-2 years with Los Dos primarily as a midfielder, with some time as a sub for the first team. He’ll start being a regular substitute as a like-for-like back up to a starter after that, maybe in a similar role to Kenny Walker coming in for Juninho. I still worry that his Mexican roots could get to him. If the right situation in Liga MX comes up, he could leave.

Ignacio Maganto: (23, 140 lbs, 5′ 7″, Just Drafted)
Iona College (4 years): 71 caps, 27 goals, 14 assists

The four year Gael was drafted 21st overall in the SuperDraft this past week. He played primarily as a midfielder in college, but can also be a forward. Either way, he’s an attacker, so I had to include him on the list last minute. Several called him the most talented well-rounded attacker in the SuperDraft this year. Maganto improved his stats every year in college. Born in Madrid, he fits the Galaxy’s passing system in and around the 18 well.

With limited professional experience, he could be a bit of a project. Give him and Mendiola the keys to the Los Dos attack next season and see what he’s got. Arena has done a great job in the draft picking the right player and molding him to fill a need. Maganto could be a 2-3 year project. Let Curt Onalfo mold him into a pro.

Prediction: Way too early to call anything significant. He’ll get 20+ caps with Los Dos in 2015. See how he does and go from there.

Overall:

Each of them has the potential to play regular minutes in MLS. One of the issues facing Arena is save McBean, all of them are underneath forwards. The ones who can play in the midfield or out wide should try it out. The Galaxy have a knack for seeing players the way others don’t, but those they bring in and choose not to keep. They won’t let a player walk for nothing unless they have to. If the kid has value, they’ll recoup something for him. Bruce Arena has five MLS Cups. He didn’t win those by handling young talent poorly.

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