2016 MLS season preview: LA Galaxy

Steven Gerrard In 2014

After an early playoff exit last season, the revamped Galaxy go into the new campaign with an even more star-studded line-up.

2015 regular season: 5th Western Conference (9th overall)

2015 playoffs: Knockout Round; 3-2 loss to Seattle Sounders

MLS Cup odds: 5/1

Players in: Dan Kennedy (FC Dallas, trade), Clement Diop (LA Galaxy II), Daniel Steres (LA Galaxy II), Jeff Larentowicz (free agent), Mike Magee (free agent), Emmanuel Boateng (Helsingborgs, undisclosed), Jelle Van Damme (Standard Liege, undisclosed), Ashley Cole (free), Nigel de Jong (free)

Players out: Todd Dunivant (retired), Edson Buddle (option declined), Tommy Meyer (option declined), Brian Perk (option declined), Donovan Ricketts (option declined), Charlie Rugg (option declined), Mika Vayrynen (option declined), Kenney Walker (option declined), Andrew Wolverton (option declined), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, undisclosed), Juninho (Club Tijuana, undisclosed), Dan Gargan (waived), Ignacio Maganto (waived)

While the LA Galaxy knew that life after Landon Donovan wasn’t going to be easy, the arrivals of Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos last summer had many hailing them as clear 2015 MLS Cup favourites. They certainly looked like the real deal between June and September, scoring 33 goals during a run of eight wins in 10 games, but a spectacular collapse down the stretch saw them forced to settle for fifth spot in the Western Conference. Subsequently falling to the Seattle Sounders in the first round of the playoffs, long-time starters Omar Gonzalez and Juninho have since left for Liga MX, but it's hoped that their departures will be offset by the high-profile captures of Jelle van Damme, Ashley Cole and Nigel de Jong. Once again, Bruce Arena’s men will be entering the season in win-now mode.

Reasons to be positive

While the Galaxy certainly weren’t lacking firepower in 2015, a painfully imbalanced line-up ultimately led to their demise. Gerrard’s aging legs left midfield partner Juninho with far too much work to do in the centre of the park, and teams promptly exploited that weakness during the run-in. With the Brazilian departing for Club Tijuana in December, however, Arena has got the perfect man to replace him in De Jong. Known for eating up space and offering a physical presence in the middle, it truly can’t be overstated just how crucial the tough-tackling Dutchman will be to LA’s championship bid this season.

The Galaxy’s other major issue last season was in goal. After Jamie Penedo’s shock summer departure, 38-year-old Donovan Ricketts was brought back for his second stint at the StubHub Center but ended up proving more of a problem than a solution, committing several costly errors before having his contract option declined in December. Former Chivas USA keeper Dan Kennedy is the new man between the posts, and while his one-year spell with FC Dallas didn’t go to plan due to injuries, there’s an argument to make that the California native was the league’s best shot-stopper over the previous few seasons.

Perhaps more significantly, Designated Players Gerrard and Dos Santos will also have the advantage of enjoying a full preseason going into this term, while the same can be said for ex-West Ham United midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Signed last May, the 23-year-old playmaker-cum-winger proved a revelation during his first few months in MLS, hitting seven goals from the left flank in an 11-match span, but a heavy summer workload ultimately left him looking off the pace during the run-in. Now better prepared for what’s ahead of him, the former US Under-23 international should be aiming for his first senior call-up in 2016 if all goes to plan.

Meanwhile, whether Gyasi Zardes will see more time on the wing or up top this year still remains to be seen, but the mere fact he’ll be starting the 2016 season at the StubHub Center comes as a major boost. The 24-year-old attacker was heavily linked with a move to Europe this winter, but the club’s top brass managed to hold off overseas interest for at least another six months.

Trouble on the horizon?

While the goalkeeping and defensive midfield issues have been addressed, there is reason to be wary about how the Galaxy’s backline will hold up in 2016. Former Belgium international Jelle van Damme is pencilled in as Gonzalez’s replacement at centre-half alongside A.J. DeLaGarza, but the fact that the 33-year-old is transitioning from left-back while adapting to MLS’ arduous travel schedule means there could be some teething problems to begin with.

When it comes to Ashley Cole, though, the concern is far greater. The former Arsenal and Chelsea left-back has played hardly any competitive football for the past year after a nightmare 18-month spell with Roma, and his performances before being axed from the first-team were disappointing to say the least. In order to accommodate his arrival, Robbie Rogers is also being switched to an unfamiliar right-back role, although he should be able to handle the change give how seamlessly he made the move from midfield to defence two seasons ago.

Key man: Robbie Keane

At age 35, Keane is still showing no signs of slowing down. The 2014 MLS MVP has netted 73 times in 108 regular seasons games since joining the Galaxy from Tottenham Hotspur in August 2011 and put together his most productive campaign yet in 2015. After being hampered by a groin injury early in the season, the Irishman went on a scoring tear to finish the year with a career-best 20 goals in 24 league appearances, and there is no reason to think he’ll be any less impressive this term.

One to watch: Emmanuel Boateng

While Boeteng was the Galaxy’s least heralded offseason signing from Europe, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he made just as big an impact in LA as his fellow newcomers. The former Ventura County Fusion winger returns to the States after three years with Swedish side Helsingborgs, where he was managed by Henrik Larsson, and he figures to see a fair chunk of time on the flanks from the offset. Blessed with blazing speed, he has already made quite an impression on coach Arena.

“He's got explosive speed, for sure,” Arena told MLSoccer.com on the 22-year-old Ghanaian. “Speed comes in a lot of ways in the game: it's technical speed, it's mental speed, it's physical speed. We've got to try to bring all three of those components into play with him. If we can do that, he's going to be very dangerous.”

Predicted regular season finish: 1st Western Conference

After underachieving last year, the Galaxy will be entering 2016 with even more star power, a newly balanced line-up and a chip on their shoulder. As long as they’ve arrested the defensive issues which led to their late-season collapse, their chances of contending for the league double look very promising indeed.

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