The king is dead. Long live the king.
Robbie Keane, of course, is not dead. He’s not retired, either. The Galaxy legend is alive and well, searching for one final on-field challenge after announcing this week that his time with LA has come to an end. Similarly, Giovani dos Santos, the Irishman’s heir apparent at the StubHub Center, hasn’t been crowned. He’s not the king. Not yet, anyway.
Still the page is turning in Carson, and a dynastic Galaxy era largely defined by Keane, Landon Donovan and three MLS Cup triumphs in four years is officially over.
Juninho is long gone. Omar Gonzalez, too. Now Keane joins them in bidding adieu to the Galaxy, and I’d wager Donovan follows his partner in goals this offseason, concluding he prefers retirement to another 10-month grind. Even Bruce Arena’s future is in question, following reports he could step in should US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann see the door.
A defining MLS epoch is over, it’s central protagonists scattered far and wide with championship rings in tow, so what’s next?
To answer Kurt: No, they’re not. Mediocrity simply isn’t part of the Galaxy’s DNA.
This is a club whose “disappointing” 2016 season included tying for the fewest regular-season loses (6) in the league while accumulating the second-best goal differential (+15), a defense that allowed the second fewest goals (39), an attack that paced the Western Conference in goals (54) and a playoff run ended by the cruelty of penalty kicks. All that without Keane, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes for long stretches and Donovan a late-season passenger.
If that’s mediocrity – or the beginnings of it – there are 21 other MLS clubs that’ll happily sign on for something similar in 2017.
Of course, those 21 clubs will have to compete with a revitalized and revamped Galaxy to even sniff that sort of success. And make no mistake, this team won’t be rebuilding. LA will simply reload, as they always seem to do.
They’ll do so with their backbone already in place. How many MLS clubs can match the line-by-line talent of dos Santos, Zardes, Sebastian Lletget and Jelle Van Damme? How many clubs can feel reasonably sure their backline will return intact? How many clubs can safely assume a culture of winning will permeate their locker room?
The Galaxy can, and that’s just their 2017 starting point.
With Gerrard and Keane gone, two coveted Designated Player spots open just as the club looks to get younger. And while it seems LA, once MLS’s splashiest with the cash, are set to rein in spending, there are plenty of DP- and TAM-level players who could take this team to another level without investing at Beckham, Keane or Gerrard heights (or at their respective ages).
Think those players and their agents will take the call when it’s the Galaxy are on the other end of the line? Think Arena and Chris Klein haven’t already been making those calls?
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that LA went out this winter and snagged some approximation of Nacho Piatti or Joao Plata to play opposite Emmanuel Boateng as well as a holding midfielder in the mold of Diego Chara, Juninho or Uri Rosell – the d-mids from the last three MLS Cup champions, by the way. In addition, they fill positions of need via discovery and free agency then add an academy kid and Galaxy II prospect for the future.
Sound reasonable? It should, and it would make the Galaxy an immediate MLS Cup favorite.
Are there pitfalls? There always are. LA could conceivably strike out this offseason. Even signings with the initial trappings of success often don’t pan out. Injuries happen. Dos Santos, Zardes and Lletget may not make the leaps expected of them. If Arena leaves, who takes the reins?
Those concerns will be addressed this offseason. The questions answered or left hanging.
An era is over in LA, just as another club is preparing to embark on their own journey in the City of Angels. And while the crown may be heavy, the Galaxy are as prepared as any to bear its burden.
The king is dead. Long live the king.