By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Feb 15, 2017) US Soccer Players - Not too long ago, the question facing the LA Galaxy’s preseason MLS Cup chances centered on their opponents. It was the common question. Is there anyone as strong as the Galaxy who will contend for MLS Cup? With four MLS Cup appearances in a six-year span, it was also a legitimate one.
In the post-Bruce Arena era, though, that question is no longer valid. This preseason, the Galaxy face numerous questions that they won't answer until well into the regular season. The biggest of them is the one thing that could keep the club from making another run at the MLS Cup.
The most prevailing theme for this year’s LA Galaxy squad will be whether there is enough depth on the roster to keep them in the Western Conference race. The Galaxy front office has assembled a collection of players who seem capable of doing damage in the Western Conference. Whether or not there is enough of a supporting cast to help with the unavoidable absences will ultimately determine the team’s fate in 2017.
Already, there is reason to fear that lack of depth will sink the club.
Perhaps the one spot where the club shouldn't worry is in the midfield. For their friendly against San Jose over the weekend, the Galaxy lined up with a midfield quartet of Emmanuel Boateng, Baggio Husidic, Jermaine Jones, and Sebastian Lletget. Newcomer Joao Pedro made his debut off the bench while fellow newcomer Romain Alessandrini did not participate in the match. Six players are conceivably battling for four starting spots, which is encouraging.
Everywhere else on the field, problems will certainly arise. Defense is perhaps the most startling. Jelle Van Damme is the centerpiece of the back line. He was a force last season as he played 28 matches and was a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year. At 33, though, he may be vulnerable to injury. Fellow center back Daniel Steres was mostly an unknown commodity at this point a year ago. He went on to play in 29 matches at center back. Steres showed some growing pains but comes in as a reliable defender who should only continue to get better.
The fullbacks though are more concerning. Left back Ashley Cole is 36. The Galaxy need Cole to at least match his 25 games played from a year ago. Cole received two red cards in 2016 so he may miss a match or two due to disciplinary concerns. His age though is not comforting. Right back could be the biggest hole. With Robbie Rogers injured and not expected back before the start of the season, Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo is turning to sixth-year man Rafael Garcia as a potential solution. Turning to Garcia in a pinch may work. However, expecting him to lock down a starting spot at right back when he has not been there in any extended period of time is asking quite a bit.
With AJ DeLaGarza now donning the orange of the Houston Dynamo, the Galaxy’s utility back is gone. If any of those four go down, 23-year-old Dave Romney becomes the most experienced option off the bench. Romney has played 15 games over the last two seasons with the Galaxy.
Also pressing on the Galaxy is Gyasi Zardes’ injury. Zardes withdrew from USMNT camp due to the injury but it seems it is more serious than initially feared. Zardes underwent knee surgery to help repair the damaged knee. Zardes should start fitness training soon. He last played for the Galaxy in August after he broke a bone in his right foot.
With players like Mike Magee (retired) and Alan Gordon (Colorado) gone, the Galaxy lost a bit of quality and veteran leadership off the bench. Trying to replace that are Jack McBean, Jose Villarreal, and Ariel Lassiter.
With as much youth and inexperience there is at key positions, the Galaxy must hit on both Pedro and Alessadrini. The players must adjust quickly to MLS, not just on the field with the physicality and style of play, but off of it with the travel and weather. They must produce quickly and often in order to help build confidence and establish a foundation for this team to build off of. The Galaxy cannot afford to have unproductive players in the lineup because there is not much to replace them with otherwise.
Depth and talent kept the Galaxy atop the league for so many years. Now, it could keep them languishing near the bottom.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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