2013 in Review: Defending champions LA Galaxy can't quite scale MLS mountaintop again
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 15-11-8 (53 points); 53 GF / 38 GA (+15 GD)
The LA Galaxy started 2013 with “three-peat” dreams after winning the previous two MLS Cup championships, but a roller-coaster of a season ended in disappointment when they were ousted one step from a fourth successive Western Conference title appearance.
The Galaxy had troubles at the back, especially on set pieces, and conceded 19 goals from the 75th minute on to drop 15 points that kept the Supporters' Shield from their grasp. And the late struggles also cost them in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals against Monterrey and in overtime of their Western Conference semifinal loss at Real Salt Lake.
Landon Donovan arrived late after an extended leave of absence and needed time to find his form, and LA lost an integral piece of their attack when they dealt away Mike Magee for the rights to Robbie Rogers, who dealt with myriad injuries and found his game only at season's end.
The Galaxy were rarely the team they wanted to be until the final third of the season, after goalkeeper Jaime Penedo arrived, Donovan moved up top from the wing as a partner for the outstanding Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez – a Designated Player pact signed – took a huge step forward in form. Ultimately, it wasn't enough.
Best Moment of the Year
The Galaxy struggled to find momentum most of this season, but they put together at least four blindingly brilliant performances, and the most meaningful might have been in a 4-2 romp Aug. 17 over visiting Real Salt Lake. Keane netted his second hat trick of the season and Omar Gonzalez nodded home a Donovan corner kick in a blowout not nearly as close as the scoreline suggests. It started LA on a four-game winning streak, one of them in the CONCACAF Champions League, their longest such stretch of the year.
Worst Moment of the Year
Chris Schuler's goal in overtime of the second-leg playoff loss at Real Salt Lake certainly qualifies, but Magee's departure might have been worse. Magee wanted to go home to Chicago, but by granting that wish, the Galaxy eliminated a vital dimension to their attack and left themselves ill-equipped in their bid for an unprecedented third straight MLS Cup title. Playing primarily up front, Magee already had a team-best six goals when he joined the Fire, where he completed an MVP campaign.
With the Galaxy trailing by a goal in Seattle in the 78th minute of their regular-season finale, and needing at least a draw to snatch the No. 3 seed and avoid the Western Conference's Knockout Round, Keane hit a cunning half-volley so it would bounce off the artificial surface and bound into the right-post netting for a 1-1 tie. “That goal wasn't a mistake or a fluke,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “He meant to do what he did, and that tells you how a guy like he can slow things down in the moment.”
Keane finished second in the league MVP vote after scoring 16 goals with 11 assists in just 23 regular-season matches – he had 20 goals in all games – and his worth is apparent in the Galaxy's record when he played (12-4-7, with 44-19 goals for/against) and when he wasn't available (3-7-1, 9-19). He's the logical choice, but it's hard to go against central midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who did the most to keep the ball moving for LA.
It wasn't that Italian veteran Carlo Cudicini was a bad goalkeeper, he just wasn't a good enough shot-stopper, struggled on flighted balls and wasn't the leader the Galaxy needed at the back. Panamanian star Penedo arrived after the CONCACAF Gold Cup final and instantly made LA's defense better. His quickness, ability to get to the ball in any situation, and his organization of the backline turned the Galaxy into a contender again.
“I think if I had to grade our team, I'd give them a B-minus for the year,” head coach/general manager Bruce Arena said a few days after LA was eliminated from the playoffs. “Our entire organization. We qualified for the playoffs. Our second half of the season, we became a very strong team defensively, yet we still broke down on defensive restarts, which was a critical component of the playoff game we lost. One of the good things is I think we controlled the majority of the games we played.”
1. Maturation: The Galaxy have a lot of good, young prospects, and it was gratifying to see center back Kofi Opare step into a starting role in the last months of the season. Fellow rookie Gyasi Zardes played a significant role, but he must be more precise in the final third. Others, especially Homegrowns Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal, need to take big steps forward.
2. Another option up top: After Magee departed, the Galaxy's options on the front line were Keane, Donovan and a bunch of youngsters, so it wasn't much of a mystery why LA struggled to score when Keane and/or Donovan were gone or having a bad day. They could use a veteran off the bench and for spot-starting duty.
3. Better wing play: Zardes showed tremendous promise after moving to the wing, but the other wide spot is available for Rogers, Hector Jimenez, Michael Stephens or perhaps Baggio Husidic. Someone needs to step up and make the job theirs.