For the first time in league history, "Embarrassment of attacking riches" really is an appropriate phrase. There's never been a team as stacked as the 2012 LA Galaxy.
In Robbie Keane, they have a Designated Player striker who would be the odds-on favorite for the Golden Boot if he weren't going to miss at least a month for Euro 2012. In Landon Donovan, they have a former Golden Boot winner, MLS MVP and the all-time leading US goal scorer.
That David Beckham fella you've probably heard of, and lest you think he's merely a set-piece specialist, I suggest you re-watch the MLS Cup Playoffs and see how he constantly played the ball early and into stride, making it easier for the likes of Donovan and Keane to carry the ball at pace or pick passes themselves. And Mike Magee proved his worth several-fold over the second half of last season, showing a knack for one-touch passing in the final third and bagging timely goals when it mattered most.
Bringing back Edson Buddle – one of the league's all-time leading scorers – and adding him to that mix, then, is almost unfair.
So does it mean a repeat of this...
A solid chunk of those chances that Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman sent into the Angel City Brigade will land cozily in the net now that Buddle's back, which does eliminate one of the few weaknesses the Galaxy had. The big man never did get starter's minutes in Germany with Ingolstadt, but he did producing starter's goals, leading his team from the bench this year before the bizarre cancellation of his contract.
And, of course, we've seen what he can do in MLS.
For LA, though, the real issue is figuring out who's going to replace Juninho and Omar Gonzalez. Once Gonzalez got healthy last year, the Galaxy ran off a string of 24 league games with just one loss. During that stretch, they lost their starting 'keeper to injury, lost Donovan to the Gold Cup (and got him back injured), saw Beckham battle through a series of knocks including a fractured back, and had Leonardo and Gregg Berhalter go down for the year and for two months, respectively.
One loss in 24 despite that. Gonzalez got my MLS MVP vote – he was that important – and the Galaxy, for all their stars, were a team that was defined by their defense.
With Juninho, the appreciation was a little more subtle, and the (justifiable) worry among Galaxy fans is that his absence will become very, very tangible this season. The Brazilian was one of those "little things" midfielders, a guy who always managed to play the smart pass, always kept the central defensive pair shielded, always make sure his team kept its shape. And he came through with several big goals when the Galaxy needed it.
The difference between having him on the pitch and not was best illustrated in the playoffs. One game LA struggled to subdue a pretty mediocre New York Red Bulls side as Juninho served his suspension for the Rafa Márquez affair; the next, they tore through a very, very good Real Salt Lake team with relative ease, dominating the tempo for nearly the full 90 minutes.
Those were the two pressing issues for Bruce Arena and Co. heading into 2012, and landing Buddle doesn't answer either. Defense wins championships, and the Galaxy still have questions about theirs.
But ... man are they going to be fun to watch in attack. It could be 1998 all over again.
According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, there are rumblings that the Red Bulls will be meeting with the reps for Michael Ballack in Germany this week.
Just due diligence on RBNY's part, or the prelude to a move for the 35-year-old German midfielder who's on the outs at current club Bayer Leverkusen? And if they bring Ballack in, is he the "final piece" for the New York attack, or an injury-prone albatross whose best days are far, far behind him?
In the history of US youth soccer, there are three absolute stand-outs, guys who were so can't miss that they made coaches, teammates, scouts and – especially – agents giddy at what the future would hold.
First was Claudio Reyna, who turned down Barcelona to play at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s.
Next was Landon Donovan, who won the Golden Ball at the 1999 U-17 Youth World Cup.
And then there was Charles Renken.
(No, Freddy Adu was not in this group. While considered a very good prospect, most serious scouts and managers didn't consider him to be "can't miss.")
Renken was as polished a prospect as they come. In the 2007 Nike Friendlies against Brazil, the midfielder – then just 14 – didn't dribble circles around the Samba Boys. He didn't explode out of the pack at a gallop, displaying a sprinter's turn of pace.
Instead he just feinted, the ball glued to his foot, and slipped a pass to a teammate. Time and again three yellow kits would close around him; time and again he'd slip Joe Gyau or Stefan Jerome through. Renken was possessed of an otherworldly ability to handle pressure, a sort of soccer aikido that you're either born with or not.
This was the American Xavi. Every team in the world wanted him, and wanted him badly.
Then he blew out his right knee in a training session. A year later, he did it again.
It's been three years since that second ACL injury, and now Renken has slipped quietly through the waiver wire to land with the Portland Timbers. 1899 Hoffenheim let him go for nothing, and 18 MLS teams passed on the chance to sign him on a free.
Does that mean he's broken beyond repair? That the Timbers ponied up for damaged goods, similar to how Chivas USA brought John O'Brien in for a cup of coffee in the 2006 season?
I don't know – no one really does, and no one really will until the kid has some time under his belt in the Rose City.
But we can hope. This isn't just for Timbers fans, or US fans; it's for soccer fans. Renken has the kind of talent that everyone can enjoy, the ability and preternatural gifts that make you think "This is why I love this game."
That's what we saw on the field four years ago against Brazil. If the soccer gods are kind, I'd love to see it again.
The New York Red Bulls keep on playing their immigrant song, this time targeting Swedish attacking midfielder Tobias Grahn (no relation to Tobias Fünke) according to the Swedish press.
Grahn became surplus goods to his current side, Mjällby of the Swedish top flight, when they acquired midfielder Dominique Kivuvu earlier this month.. Grahn, 31, has had stops all over Scandinavia, which makes him perfect for the Red Bulls' Viking braintrust. He also had a brief detour to the Spanish Segunda, and a 13-game loan to Hertha BSC in Germany.
Along the way he picked up a handful of caps with his national team, scoring one goal in four appearances.