CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy attack is going to be much different coming into 2013, now that David Beckham, and his precise long balls that open up opposing defenses, have up and left for Paris.
How well they transition to ground-based, slow-buildup kind of game will determine what kind of season they have and whether there's a real shot at a third straight MLS Cup title.
Beckham largely defined the Galaxy during his five seasons in LA, with his set-piece mastery and ability to find teammates from nearly any distance – the Galaxy were dangerous from any spot on the field – and his departure means fundamental change.
“How much do we change? Well, the obvious is that we're going to be missing a guy that can make the difference in a game with a pass or his ability to hit dead balls,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said as the Galaxy prepare for their league opener Sunday against the Chicago Fire at the Home Depot Center (5 pm ET; UniMás in the US, MLS Live in Canada). “The special moments will be missed, [and they] were critical, because we have guys ahead of him with high IQs, that understand how to get on the end of a great pass.”
“Not having David, we lose one of the best passers in the history of the game,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “We're not going to change that. ... We won't pass as well. We won't be as dangerous in some ways when the ball turns over in our favor, but maybe collectively we can be better. That's all we can hope to do. There's no David Beckhams out there replacing the last David Beckham.”
Instead, the Galaxy will team Brazilians Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas in central midfield and use their creativity, along with greater movement and interchange, to unlock opposing defenses.
“It's a little different way of playing, but I think we're used to it,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “We've done that when David wasn't here, and it been kind of seamless. Juninho and Marcelo play so well together – I wouldn't want to go against them as midfielders.”
Sarvas, who saw plenty of time in the middle – much of it with Juninho – last year in his first season with LA, thinks the Galaxy will play a more rapid game, that the relationships and combinations will do the work that one Beckham ball could accomplish.
“I think our team today is a team that plays more step by step, ball in the feet, looking for combinations and with a little bit more speed,” he said. “It's more about movement now. ... The ball rolls and everyone on the pitch has to move more. David, he cuts some steps when the ball moves forward. That's the difference.”
Juninho has been the set-piece taker during preseason, and he's got a lethal shot from distance. Can he offer some of what Beckham provided?
“Yeah, I can do this. Easily,” he said. “Because I have a good shot and long distance. I'm going to try to replace David in that part.”
Sarachan thinks there will be better “balance in terms of the workrate, in terms of covering, in terms of who goes forward” because Beckham had free reign to go pretty much anywhere he wanted, with Juninho taking on most of the cover responsibility.
“With one loss,” Sarachan said, “you get a little bit of gain, too.”
No philosophical shift is necessary.
Beckham's absence “changes the obvious,” Arena said. “We don't have players that can hit balls 50 yards with the kind of accuracy David does. Which changes things. Whether that's philosophy or not, that's reality to me.
“You just do what you can do based on your strengths and weaknesses and play as well as you can as a collective unit.”