CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy knew when their 2015 campaign closed early, with a Knockout Round playoff loss to Seattle last October, that changes would need to be made if they were going to contend this year for a fourth MLS Cup title in six seasons.
They needed to get deeper and be stronger defensively, and they quickly targeted some big names to do so, especially after Omar Gonzalez and Juninho departed in December for clubs in Mexico.
They didn't expect their quest to turn out so well.
The Galaxy on Friday officially introduced English left back Ashley Cole and Belgian center back Jelle Van Damme at a StubHub Center news conference, and they'll gather again next week or the week following to welcome Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong to the club.
Cole was widely seen as the world's best left back just a few years ago, and Van Damme is a veteran defender who has played for Belgium's national team.
Bringing in all three – along with a handful of respected MLS veterans and Ghanaian youngster Emmanuel Boateng – is something of a coup, sending the message, perhaps, that LA remain the league's premier club, no matter how last season ended.
“I'm not sending a message to anybody,” head coach Bruce Arena said after the news conference. “What we're trying to do it built the best team we can possibly build, and by the way we perform on the field, then there will be some messages sent – by our performance, not by anything else.”
The Galaxy have brought in big names most of the last decade – starting with David Beckham in 2007, then Robbie Keane in 2011, then Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos last summer – but they weren't expecting to land three internationals this offseason.
“I think when you look, you can always get one,” club president Chris Klein said. “If you get an Ashley Cole, one-off, I think you'd be happy. To make the additions that we made in the short span that we made them, I think it went beyond our expectations.
“It was looking at what didn't go well last year, as well as the schedule this year and international call-ups and everything else, and being able to find the starting XI, but also find a group that can go beyond that, that can compete in [CONCACAF] Champions League, compete in our league season, and then ultimately compete for MLS Cup.”
Arena noted that LA “got some breaks and it worked out,” but “now the difficult part is ahead. We have some very good pieces. Now we've got to make all those pieces into a very good team.”
Cole, 35, played in only 16 competitive matches in a year and a half with Roma – none since last March – but he says he still has something to give.
“I did find it difficult the last two years, not playing as much as I hoped and wanted to ...,” he said. “I try to keep myself fit as I could. I'm very motivated. I tried to train as hard as I could, tried to stay in shape as much as I could. And now it's a new challenge, a new adventure for me.
“I've said I've always been born to work hard and to win things, and I don't come here with anything different. That's in my mindset, to come here and to win trophies.”
Gerrard, who played with Cole for England, and Keane, who played against him many times, said following Friday's training session that his acquisition is a massive move.
“He brings experience, quality. He'll be, for sure, one of the best left backs in the league, if not the best,” Gerrard said. “Me, I played with him when he was world-class and probably the best left back in the world. I'm sure he'll still have a lot of that in his armory. It's a stroke of genius for Bruce getting him in.
“I know there will be a lot of questions [for Cole], does he still got the hunger, the desire? Is he too old? I faced all the questions myself. We'll have to wait and see, but I have every confidence he'll be a top player.”
Keane called Cole “one of the best left backs that's ever played the game” and called him a “huge addition.”
The 6-foot-4 Van Damme, 32, who arrives from Standard Liege, said he'll “bring everything I have” and that he's “a physical player.”
“I knew him a little bit from when he used to play for Wolves, even though he was there only a short period of time,” said Keane, LA's captain. “Another experienced player. You look at how well he played at Standard Liege and the reception when he left, and he's certainly going to be a big player for us. You look how big he is, how strong he is, certainly that physical presence will be very, very good for us.”