Editorial (November 13, 2016) – The LA Galaxy ended their campaign for a record sixth MLS Cup in the conference semifinals. The team had a very up and down season and ultimately lost to a less talented but more organized and determined Colorado Rapids team. Let’s break down the full year.
LA Galaxy 2016 Season Review
First off, this season needs to be taken into context. Head coach Bruce Arena came into the season with one year left on his contract. Captain Robbie Keane was aging and on the last year of his deal. So was Steven Gerrard. The club appeared to be in good position to compete in CONCACAF Champions League.
Everything the Galaxy did in the off season seemed to be to give them a chance in CCL. Everything they did throughout the year meant to give them a chance come November. Things just didn’t work out and the team under-performed all year.
What Went Right
In short, a few good off season signings and some development of the young kids. The Galaxy made a slew of off season veteran signings. International names likes Nigel de Jong, Ashley Cole, and Jelle Van Damme joined the club. MLS free agents in Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee signed with the club. So did young Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng. The Galaxy also re-signed Alan Gordon and Gyasi Zardes.
Boateng and Van Damme turned out to be great signings. While inconsistent at times, Boateng’s speed proved to be lethal in the final third. He grew into his role as a wide player for the club and forced his way into the starting lineup when healthy.
Van Damme turned out to be exactly what the Galaxy were looking for in a replacement for Omar Gonzalez. The physical center back did it all defensively for the Galaxy, leading the team in defensive actions during tough games along with Nigel de Jong. Van Damme was excellent in the air. He also stepped up big playing next to inexperienced teammates in Daniel Steres and Brian Rowe.
Steres and Rowe were imperfect in 2016. Both had their first full season of being regular starters. Steres was a rookie this season. Rowe has been the Galaxy’s back up for several years and was able to unseat Dan Kennedy after he got injured in the first league match of the season. Both had mistakes that cost LA points. Still, they grew as the season went on. They will be more valuable assets in 2017.
What Went Wrong
In short, the old veterans and the system as a whole. Keane and Gerrard were not healthy throughout the season, especially down the stretch in the playoffs. Gerrard had some ok moments when playing, but his inability to fit into the squad when healthy hurt the team.
With an older and less mobile central midfield, Arena was forced to abandon his 4-4-2 system that has made the Galaxy so successful during his tenure. Gerrard wasn’t able to play box-to-box. De Jong as effective, but slow at times. Larentowicz and Magee were able to fill in at times, but were clearly lesser versions of themselves.
The club played around with the 4-3-3, which turned out to be very unsuccessful. Arena ultimately settled on 4-2-3-1 that had mixed results. Then the club was dealt a mid-season curve ball with De Jong leaving the club in August. This did however allow the club to negotiate with Landon Donovan to bring him out of retirement.
Ultimately, the failures of this season lied with Keane and Giovanni dos Santos being unable to play together. The two DP forwards just played too similar a role in the system. They could never play well together for long stretches. Combined with the issues in midfield, the imperfect defense just had too much pressure put on them. It was a feat that the team finished with one of the best defenses in the league. Again, Van Damme deserves a lot of credit.
The Galaxy’s downfall in the playoffs was that they couldn’t score. They had nothing going forward. Dos Santos mirrors Donovan in his prime in that he’s either in Ghost Mode or Beast Mode. He was in Ghost Mode for much of the series with Colorado. Keane was ineffective off the bench and secondary scoring was nonexistent. Injuries to Gyasi Zardes and Boateng did not help that cause.
Off Season Plans
The Galaxy might have more questions going into the off season than any other MLS club. A decision needs to be made about Arena’s future. More critically, the club needs to make a decision about their direction philosophically. The league is trending younger, both in academy and drafted players. DPs are also getting younger, with teams going for long term leaders rather than stars at the end of their career.
Gerrard will most likely be gone. A decision needs to be made about Robbie Keane as well. Once that decision is made, the front office will look to fill any DP slot openings.
After that, there are several veteran players the club will need to make decisions about: Larentowicz, Magee, and Gordon. The club will also have to expose a number of players in the 2016 Expansion Draft.
There are lots of questions going into 2017 for the Galaxy, but there are still lots of reasons for excitement. There’s plenty of homegrown talent waiting in the wings. And the future of the club’s attack seems to be Dos Santos and Zardes up top. Plus, Sebastian Lletget could be an answer at central midfield.
Only time will tell.