CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy wanted to be preparing this week for the second leg of a Western Conference Championship against the Portland Timbers, but instead they held end-of-season meetings, cleared out their lockers and headed into more than two months of offseason.
That's not necessarily a negative for the two-time defending MLS Cup champions, who were eliminated from this year's title race eight days ago at Real Salt Lake.
The Galaxy haven't been done this early since 2006, before David Beckham's arrival and almost two years before head coach Bruce Arena began his rebuilding project, and they're welcoming the time off, for the most part, and expect it will aid them in next year's hunt.
“I think we've been in position to be burned out physically and mentally over the last five years, so having a little bit of a break may be a blessing in disguise to prepare us for 2014,” Arena said this week. “It's not perfect. The break is too long, it's too long for the entire league, it's a real mistake, the time off, but we're going to deal with it accordingly.”
Landon Donovan called it “the only silver lining” to LA's early ouster from the playoffs, noting that playing into December “with offseason trips and all that staff” four of the previous six years “does catch up to you after a while, there's no doubt. ... It'll be a welcome break for some of us, sure.”
Donovan had an extended break last year, returning to the Galaxy in late March after refueling over three-and-a-half months following LA's MLS Cup triumph over Houston last December, but he's been playing on a sprained ankle since mid-September and requires about six weeks of rest to let it heal. A lot of players could use some time off to get healthy and assess what went wrong in 2013.
“Whenever it ends before it should, it allows for reflection and self evaluation and, obviously, rest and recovery,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “I think all of that is going on right now within the team. The important thing is you recognize the good things that you did this year, recognize the areas that need to be improved and you move on.”
The Galaxy played into December on postseason trips to Australia and New Zealand in 2007 and 2008, finished with an MLS Cup defeat to Real Salt Lake on Nov. 22 in 2009, had a late-November friendly in Australia in 2010, and played games in Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia into December in 2011. Last year wrapped with their second straight MLS Cup triumph.
“We've had the least rest of anyone by far over the last several years, and all that takes a toll,” said left back Todd Dunivant. “[In the past few years we] get six weeks total, but that means you maybe get a couple of weeks and then you're training again to stay fit.
"From that standpoint, I think it will be a new challenge for the guys to stay fit and to come in fit because we don't have a lot of time [to prepare for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals], and we want to be ready for Tijuana.”
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Camps open after the Jan. 16 MLS SuperDraft, and the season is expected to begin again in early March. The series with Tijuana begins the second week of March. That makes for too long a break for some.
“To be honest, it's the worst vacation of my life,” midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said. “[I'm going] to be a little bit lost, don't know what to do [away] from the game. For sure, it's too much time.”