For the LA Galaxy, the 2011 season was about getting it right. The club had come within a whisker of the Supporters' Shield in 2009 but still reached MLS Cup, only to lose in penalties. In 2010, they won the Shield but were obliterated one step away from MLS Cup.
But this past year, nothing stood in the Galaxy's way – not injuries, not international absences, not even fate. LA won both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup and, in doing so, pieced together one of the finest seasons in MLS history. Certainly the team's 19 wins, 67 points and 28 goals allowed rank among the best ever for a club in a single season, but beyond that, the team's trophies will be what the 2011 Galaxy will be remembered for.
Best Moment of the Year
After Donovan Ricketts was injured and Josh Saunders was sent off at San Jose on June 25, Mike Magee stepped away from his role as forward and in between the goalposts for more than a half. That the rival Quakes were unable to get a goal past Magee and the 10-man Galaxy squad solidified the already strong belief and confidence the team had had in itself. That LA did so without Landon Donovan or David Beckham only added to that.
Worst Moment of the Year
A midweek match in Portland on Aug. 3 was supposed to have been a chance for the Galaxy to show off to a national television audience just what kind of team they had in place. After a 4-0 whipping of Vancouver four days prior, LA were hopeful of polishing off their quick swing through Casadia triumphant victors. But they never showed up, as Portland wiped their artificial surface with the Galaxy, destroying them by a convincing 3-0 scoreline.
Juninho had already struck on two previous occasions, but his finest goal of 2011 was also the Galaxy's top regular-season strike. On June 18 in Colorado, the Brazilian rifled in a long-range bomb to help his team jump ahead of of the Rapids midway through the first half. With Donovan and Beckham out, Juninho provided the jumpstart LA needed when he unloaded a 20-yard rocket past Matt Pickens and into the back of the net as the Galaxy went on to win 3-1.
Ricketts was the bona fide No. 1 'keeper for the first half of the year, and Saunders finished the year in that role, but Brian Perk had the Galaxy's top save of 2011. In his lone appearance for the club during the regular season, he was faced with the unenviable task of facing Fredy Montero on a penalty kick when Seattle visited on July 4. Perk though looked every bit the seasoned veteran as his two teammates, and turned Montero away from the spot.
Donovan led the team in goals with 12 but it wasn't just his knack for finding the back of the net that showed his value to the club. When the team was having problems in the early part of the season scoring goals, it was the captain who stepped in and filled the void. But Donovan was also a nuisance to opposing clubs, as he did the dirty work as well in helping the Galaxy keep clean sheet after clean sheet. When they was faced with adversity in the form of long-distance travel and difficult international opponents in the CONCACAF Champions League, it was Donovan's leadership and off-the-field guidance that helped the Galaxy get through the rough stretch of August and September. They didn't just survive, they thrived, maintaining their strong position in league and winning Group A in CCL.
Robbie Keane was the high-profile striker the club had hoped they were getting in Juan Pablo Ángel. Keane only scored two regular-season goals after being acquired in midseason, but the Republic of Ireland captain hit the ground running with the Galaxy and forced opposing teams to adjust to him. His presence off the field also gave LA yet another strong leader to help the club get through its difficult moments.
1. Keep the nucleus: With rumors swirling of possible moves involving Omar Gonzalez, Juninho and David Beckham, the Galaxy can ill afford to see them all come to fruition. The club needs to keep the defense intact in order to help weather the storm that will be 2012. A strong defense anchored by Gonzalez will help the set a strong tone early in the season no matter who plays in front.
2. More goals: Keane and Chad Barrett will likely start the season off as the strike pairing of choice, but Keane has Euro 2012 to keep him busy – and away from the Galaxy – for a chunk of late spring/early summer. Adam Cristman did well when called upon, but scored only one league goal while Barrett suffered several damaging injuries throughout the season. Another source of offense will help get the defending champs through some tough times.
3. Midfield depth: If Juninho is indeed not returning as reports suggest, the club may have found his replacement already in incoming Alajuelense midfielder Marcelo Sarvas. But another quality body to play in central midfield would be a key grab for the club, possibly a player who could add some scoring punch would be a good find.