MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 16-12-6 (54 points); 59 GF / 47 GA (+12 GD)
There was a brief moment there, sometime in late May, when you thought the LA Galaxy were done. Robbie Keane was off to the Euros, Landon Donovan had the 1,000-yard stare, David Beckham was doing some sort of Olympic tango with Stuart Pearce and Omar Gonzalez was months from returning (Right? I mean, he couldn’t possibly come back from an ACL tear before, say, mid-September. Nobody does that).
LA were done. They were 3-8-2, and had embarrassed themselves against a lousy Toronto team in the CONCACAF Champions League. Their body language was terrible, their defense was worse, and even Bruce Arena couldn’t dig them out of this one.
When the end of June came, and the San Jose Earthquakes hung that 4-3 loss on them in front of 50,000 fans and a national TV audience – the exact kind of game the Galaxy had found ways to win in 2010 and 2011 – a postseason spot seemed impossible. Nobody could get through to this squad and make them play as a unit.
But that’s what Bruce does. He gets teams to remember that they’re a team, finds the right motivational lever, and wins titles. This past season was his eighth full campaign as an MLS manager, and he walked out of it with his fourth MLS Cup. He also has three Supporters’ Shields, a US Open Cup, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and Copa Interamericana title. That’s an even 10 significant titles (I know, I know – you’re going to say the Copa Interamericana crown doesn’t count. But I watched those games, and they were not friendlies. Any MLS team would be right to find a place of honor for that trophy).
The doubters were all wrong. Period. The Galaxy of the last four years are, at worst, the second best team in MLS history. Period.
MatchDay 360: MLS Cup 2012
The other contender? Arena’s D.C. United dynasty of 1996-99. Cue that famous smirk.
Look, we all should have seen this coming. For all the statistical analysis, all the digging, all the number crunching, there is one bit of information that is more relevant than anything else: If Bruce Arena is calling your team’s shots, you’re not coming away empty-handed.
And that’s what is going to make the 2013 season so interesting. Because you can point to Arena’s career and say, “He’s a builder,” and you’d be right. He’s built dynasties almost everywhere he’s been (and would have in New York if circumstances were better there), but when has he ever had to rebuild?
His University of Virginia teams never had to – they just reloaded. With United, it was Thomas Rongen who drove them off a cliff in 2000. The closest Arena ever came to an honest-to-goodness rebuilding project might be the US national team’s 2006 World Cup cycle, and we all remember that one far less fondly than 2002.
So there’s no track record for Bruce the Rebuilder, and it may very well be a Galaxy rebuilding project in 2013. Beckham’s gone. Omar’s got one year on his contract, and a lot European teams are very interested in that fact. A goalkeeper switch seems to be in the works. Mike Magee’s not resigned yet. Edson Buddle’s out. Christian Wilhelmsson is gone. Landon’s on walkabout. Juninho may have to head back to São Paolo.
That could mean seven starters – including the entire midfield – as well as the top attacking sub that need replacing. And with AEG in flux, there’s no guarantee that Kaká, or Frank Lampard or some other big name is on the way. It could be Jack McBean, Marcelo Sarvas and some draft pick you’ve never heard of leading the charge for the Galaxy’s title defense.
If it turns out that way, it’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen Arena deal with before. It’s the type of situation that could break teams. The type of season that makes you say afterward, “He hung on one year too long.” The type of challenge that only the very best would get through with both rep and won/loss record intact.
Honestly? We’d be fools to doubt him.