CARSON, Calif. — After cutting a swathe through the rest of MLS and adding two pieces of hardware to their mantle, the LA Galaxy will face a wealth of new challenges for 2012.
There are the obstacles the CONCACAF Champions League poses as well as the rigors of the regular season, the US Open Cup and World Football Challenge, meaning the Galaxy’s calendar will be loaded once more. But the team needs only to look at 2011 to see what some hard work and focus can accomplish.
Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan spoke to MLSsoccer.com about the season that was in 2011 and what the team will focus on in the coming year.
MLSsoccer.com: Last year was really a dream season for the Galaxy, winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, and succeeding in Champions League. How special was 2011 for you and for the club?
Dave Sarachan: You’re exactly right from the standpoint of start to finish. It’s very hard to do what we did, go kind of wire-to-wire. When you use the term "dream season," like every team, we set goals at the beginning of the year. This was a year where we not only talked the talk, we walked it by nearly accomplishing everything that we set out to do.
As coaches, it’s never perfect, but this was about as good as it can get from that standpoint, achieving the things we wanted to achieve.
MLSsoccer.com: The Galaxy played a wealth of games in 2011: 46 competitive matches as well as two high-profile friendlies. What kinds of challenges did that pose?
Sarachan: It was really a challenging year from a quantity standpoint — the amount of games, the heaviness of the schedule in the middle of the year. A lot of factors go into the success we had. We’d felt we had built a roster that had depth so that if we got into the thick of things and needed to go deeper into the roster, the quality wouldn’t drop.
We remained relatively healthy throughout the year, which was a credit to our staff. We were all part of this competitive mind set that, whether we had to travel two or three days in a week or if we had to travel to Honduras or Mexico, when the bell rang our mindset was clear and our competitiveness was at a high level.
MLSsoccer.com: Having achieved all that the team achieved, can you top 2011? Or will you simply wipe the slate clean and focus on 2012 without taking into account last season?
Sarachan: The goals never change. This year, aside from what all coaches say and what we always preach [is] that whatever trophies are available, we want to win them.
One statistic I was very proud of was that we gave up the least amount of goals in the league with 28 goals. Our goal differential was excellent. One of the goals we set out in 2008 when Bruce and I first came was that we wanted to be a hard team to play against. That was important so that when we move forward, that doesn’t change.
Obviously we’ve got a lot of competitions on our plate coming up this year and we want to continue to be competitive in everything we do. We want to try and repeat everything we did. The challenge starts [now] and we know what’s on our plate. To repeat is always a challenge, but we don’t look at it that way. We’re going to take each competition as it comes, set the same goals like we always do and just get after it.
MLSsoccer.com: One difference from last year is the Champions League knockout rounds. The Galaxy’s first competitive game — on March 7 at Toronto in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals — is one of the most important games of the year. How much of preseason focus is with that in mind?
Sarachan: That’s the first thing on our plate so for sure that will be the mind set. What you do and what we do is you count backwards from your first competition. So [as] we come in, the focus is obviously two-fold. One is to jump right in because it will be a quick turnaround to March 7. The mind set will be to get ourselves ready for that, and then, of course, three days later, we have a league game.
It’s not going to be any different than what we faced in August and September in Champions League and regular league, only it’s in reverse.
MLSsoccer.com: In 2012, the Galaxy are guaranteed to play at least 41 games. Do you have divide up the season and try to plan it out in increments? How do you approach such a loaded calendar?
Sarachan: The goal is to get our roster right ... getting our roster to the point where we feel comfortable going into the first game of the season and knowing that as we move along from March through November we’ve got 28 to 30 guys we can choose from.
Now of course, along the way there’s going to be some personnel changes and injuries and all the rest. But as far as planning it out, it’s very difficult to do that way. We step back now and say, "What’s our roster need to look like to deal with what’s going to be a very crowded schedule in 2012?" And then we just take them game by game, week by week, month by month.
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org