By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 14, 2018) US Soccer Players - During the LA Galaxy’s successful cup-filled run from 2009 through 2014, the club had one constant on the field - a dominant player to build around. The club had a deep and talented roster, but the main building block was Landon Donovan. Forming rosters is always challenging but it made it less so for the Galaxy knowing that Donovan was a keystone in the club’s blueprint for some time.
Those times are long gone now. These days, Galaxy executives are scratching their heads and wondering how to recapture past glory. The Galaxy missed the postseason for the second consecutive year, despite having the league’s second-highest payroll. This offseason, the Galaxy is yet again trying to sort out the mess as the coaching staff, front office, and roster are in near-disarray.
For the Galaxy, the biggest question might be Giovani Dos Santos. By any fair estimate, the Dos Santos era hasn't produced what the Galaxy hoped. Signed from Villarreal for $7m midway through the 2015 season, he was a star for the club in 2016. His salary and Designated Player slot makes him a key component for whatever the Galaxy have planned. That is assuming they want to try another rebuild with Dos Santos in the squad.
Dos Santos earned a prorated rate of $5.7 million in 2015 and guaranteed annual salaries of $4.25 million in 2016, $5.5 million in 2017 and $6 million in 2018. This year, he was the league’s fifth highest-paid player. Dos Santos earned more this year than David Villa, Ignacio Piatti and Diego Valeri, all of whom had fine individual seasons and, with the exception of Piatti, led their teams to the postseason. For its $6 million, the Galaxy received three goals and two assists spread out across 14 games and 823 minutes.
Injuries were a factor in limiting Dos Santos to just 79 minutes over the last three months of the season. Add to that his absence for World Cup duty with Mexico, and it's significant time without a key component. Adding to the Galaxy's problems, they staged a late-season resurgence without him. The Galaxy won three games and tied another. They needed just a home win over Houston to reach the postseason, but failed to do so. Dos Santos played the final 14 minutes.
Dos Santos had just six goals and three assists a year ago. In the last two seasons, he has played 39 games and scored a total of nine goals. It's not what anybody expected when he joined the club, but it's also not the only issue for the Galaxy.
Right now, the focus is on whether or not Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns. The Swedish superstar wants to stay with the Galaxy and the club is open to keeping him around. That might require a few things, including a higher salary than last year.
Ibrahimovic was a bargain in 2018, costing the Galaxy just $1.5 million. For that, the Galaxy got 22 goals and 10 assists over 27 games. He's likely to cost more in 2019. Ibrahimovic is a wanted man across Europe for obvious reasons.
The Galaxy has no open Designated Player slots. Brothers Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos take up two while Romain Alessandrini fills the other. If they want to keep Zlatan and at a price, they're going to need the ability to make him a DP. The most likely way to do that is to move one of their current DP's. If it's Gio Dos Santos, that means turning the page on what's turned into a lengthy rebuild. That might not be what the Galaxy has in mind. Gio Dos Santos has outlasted coaches and front office personnel, after all. He's still that building block.
It's perhaps unfair to put so much of the Galaxy's failures over the last two seasons on Gio Dos Santos's lack of output, but that's the situation for any DP. They get that title and that salary because the expectation is that they'll be key contributors. When they're not, it invites criticism. Dos Santos can silence all of this through production. If he gets his game to where it was for LA in 2016, the criticism stops. Easy enough to say considering where he's playing.
The Galaxy's issues are bigger than any single player, coach, or employee. Though MLS is a league known for the quick turnaround and simply making the playoffs answering most problems, that's not LA's situation. They've shown over two dismal seasons that they can't get it right, at least not right enough and not right now. That's another obvious criticism of a club that's missed the playoffs two years running, but it speaks to something bigger. The club needs change, fundamentally reworking what they used to take for granted. Without that, it's hard to predict better days for the LA Galaxy in 2019.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com