MLS preview: LA Galaxy are living in a Robbie Keane world

MLS: New England Revolution at LA Galaxy

Monday marked five years to the day since Robbie Keane first arrived at the LA Galaxy. Back then, he joined a club that already boasted David Beckham and Landon Donovan as headline acts.

The Irishman was undoubtedly a marquee signing at the time, illustrated by the designated player deal he was handed, but his standing was somewhat secondary. That is no longer the case. In fact, Keane has come to define the Galaxy over the course of his stint there.

With 101 goals for the Galaxy, the former Liverpool and Spurs striker has also won three MLS Cups and a Supporters’ Shield, as well as an MVP award, during his time in Major League Soccer. He has become a predominant figure of the North American game and the spiritual figurehead of the country’s most successful and renowned team. Keane is now the face of the LA Galaxy.

His work rate, commitment, movement and goalscoring instinct make him just as popular with coaches as he is with fans, and what’s more, even at the age of 36, he’s still delivering. Keane has notched seven times in just 12 appearances this season, spearheading the LA Galaxy’s challenge for a fourth MLS Cup in six years. He is their frontman in every sense.

This weekend’s clash against New York City FC provides Keane with another opportunity to underline his quality, with the Bronx side’s slack defence sure to be a target of the Irishman. If he overcomes a fitness doubt, Yankee Stadium could present Keane with the ideal conditions to thrive. If the Galaxy lived through the Beckham years, these are surely the Keane years.

MLS made to rue what might have been in Rio

2016 will hardly go down as a vintage year for Olympic soccer in the United States following the women’s penalty shootout defeat to Sweden at the quarter-final stage (their earliest ever exit at the Olympics) but, nonetheless, MLS has watched on with rueful thoughts of what might have been.

Of course, the US men’s team failed to make it through qualification for the Rio Olympics, meaning it is now eight years since they last appeared at the Games. The inquest was comprehensive after the play-off defeat to Colombia in March, with Andreas Herzog now charged with ensuring the same thing doesn’t happen in four years’ time for Tokyo 2020.

This year was certainly a missed opportunity, with the United States’ young prospects denied the chance to experience top-level tournament soccer. Players like Walker Zimmerman, Keegan Rosenberry, Luis Gill and Jordan Morris, who surely would have made Herzog’s roster for this summer’s Olympics, could have their development stunted by not being in Rio. They have at least been deprived of the opportunity to further and test themselves.

Rio 2016 could have been a grounding for American soccer. Look at the way Brazil has used the Olympics as a testing ground for many of their best young talents. Neymar demonstrated his shimmering quality in London four years ago, securing his status as the vanguard of the Seleçao’s next generation for the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup on home soil. The USA could use the same sort of platform for its fledgling players. As it is, MLS – where many of these talents play – has been made to regret how things transpired.

Seattle knew Nicolás Lodeiro would be good, but not this good

It quickly became clear that Nicolás Lodeiro would live up to his DP billing with the Seattle Sounders. In fact, within minutes of his debut against the LA Galaxy, the Uruguayan looked to be the hub around which the Sounders now revolve. That was backed up by glittering displays in wins over Orlando City and Real Salt Lake, with Lodeiro scoring his first Seattle goal in the latter victory.

Nicolás Lodeiro, right, outmuscles LA Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard.
Nicolás Lodeiro, right, outmuscles LA Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

And all this is just a matter of weeks since his arrival in the Pacific north-west. The 27-year-old insists he is still settling in at his new club, so how good will he be once he truly feels at home at the Sounders? “The truth is, I’m getting used to things here and I’m adapting to things around me,” the Uruguayan explained earlier this week. “I definitely arrived in a difficult situation.”

Lodeiro is easing that situation, though. The Uruguayan is making those around him better, while giving Seattle a creative edge and cohesion that they have desperately lacked in the final third this season. His signing could prove a watershed moment for the club in the post-Sigi Schmid age.

With the Sounders still second bottom of the Western Conference, the situation he finds himself in, dragging a struggling team out of trouble, is reminiscent of that which Sebastian Giovinco experienced upon his arrival at Toronto FC. Lodeiro may not be playing at the level of the Atomic Ant, but he is having a similarly profound effect on his team.

New York City FC in even better position than table suggests

The concession of a late equaliser to the Columbus Crew last week presented Patrick Vieira with a warning. New York City FC have undoubtedly enjoyed a grossly successful season, sitting atop the Eastern Conference as the regular season moves closer to the play-offs. The improvement under the former Arsenal and Manchester City midfielder has been marked.

But NYC FC are in an even stronger position than the league standings illustrate. Toronto FC are just a single point behind the Bronx side, with a game in hand over Vieira’s side, with the New York Red Bulls just two points short of their Hudson river rivals. The race for honours in the east is becoming increasingly compelling.

Patrick Vieira’s New York City FC have a gentle fixture list for the rest of the regular season.
Patrick Vieira’s New York City FC have a gentle fixture list for the rest of the regular season. Photograph: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty images

Yet Vieira must look at his side’s fixtures between now and the end of the regular season. NYC FC have no more games to play against their top three rivals in the Eastern Conference, with their fixture list much more favourable than those facing Toronto FC and the Red Bulls. This weekend’s clash against the LA Galaxy will present a test of their credentials, but beyond that NYC FC have it relatively easy.

Of course, the 3-3 draw against Columbus last week demonstrated that NYC FC remain an inherently erratic side with a questionable defensive line, meaning there could yet be a number of twists and turns before the trophy presentation can be prepared at Yankee Stadium. But Vieira’s side have worked their way into a deceptively strong position.

Barnetta could be just as important as Bedoya for Philly

The Philadelphia Union have got exactly what they expected with the signing of Alejandro Bedoya. The US international boasts impressive pedigree, but he is, for the most part, not a player who will get those at PPL Park off their seats. And yet his impact at the Union has been an impressive one. He could be the player to hold their play-off challenge together.

But while Bedoya has settled in well at his new club he was upstaged on his Union debut in the 4-0 away win over the New England Revolution by Tranquillo Barnetta. The Swiss midfielder impressed in the number 10 role behind CJ Sapong as the central striker, flanked by Ilsinho and Chris Pontius, who grabbed two goals for himself at Gillette Stadium.

Barnetta has had his injury troubles over the past year or so, struggling for a consistent run of games, but the 31-year-old has hit a rich vein of form in recent weeks, impressing in back-to-back games, finding the net in the 2-2 draw away to DC United earlier this month. As a Swiss international with 75 caps to his name, Barnetta was seen as a big signing for Philly at the time, but it’s only now that he is living up to that reputation.

It could be that with Bedoya providing a platform in the centre of the pitch Barnetta has been given the freedom he needs to perform at his best around the edge of the opposition penalty area. But the Swiss is also helping with the Union’s defensive side of the game. Whatever the reason, Barnetta in his current form is giving Jim Curtin an additional dimension to use.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Graham Ruthven, for theguardian.com on Friday 19th August 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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