CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy have turned things around the past three months thanks to sensational play from their Designated Players, stellar defensive play boosted by Omar Gonzalez's return from injury, Marcelo Sarvas' increased influence in midfield and a remarkable run of form from title-season catalyst Juninho.
And now this?
The Galaxy made a champion's move on Wednesday by signing Swedish winger Christian Wilhelmsson, a veteran of the international game who provides the defending MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield titlists something they haven't had, really, since Cobi Jones retired: a true flank presence.
The 32-year-old Swedish national team standout, who began training last week with LA and made his club debut with 58 minutes in Tuesday's MLS Reserve League loss at San Jose, figures to step right into the lineup, surely supplanting second-year winger Hector Jimenez on the right side.
That gives the Galaxy, when their first-choice lineup is available, a midfield of Wilhelmsson, David Beckham, Juninho and Sarvas or Mike Magee in support of forwards Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan with the backline/goalkeeper combo so key to last year's success intact.
The Galaxy revealed no details of the deal, but Wilhelmsson, who spent the past four seasons in the Middle East, told a Swedish website that he is signed until January and that options for three further years exist.
He'll be eligible upon receipt of his P-1 visa and International Transfer Certificate and could be in the lineup when LA take on Colorado on Sept. 14 at the Home Depot Center.
LA (13-11-4) have six league games remaining, two CONCACAF Champions League road matches plus, they hope, the MLS Cup playoffs, and Wilhelmsson – a veteran of three European Championships, including Euro 2012 – could enable the soaring side to reach last year's dizzying heights.
“He'll add something that we really haven't counted on a lot since I've been here, and that's wide play,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “Real wide play. He's a legitimate wide guy. [With his tools and experience] we had to be serious about trying to add a guy like him.”
Jimenez has been solid as LA's go-to right-sided midfielder since Donovan joined Keane up front in May, but he hasn't the experience nor expertise Wilhelmsson provides. Right back Sean Franklin has been outstanding attacking that flank, too, and he and Wilhelmsson could form one of the league's best wide partnerships.
Wilhelmsson needs to get into game shape – next Monday's Reserve League game against Portland at the HDC figures to help – and fully integrate with the Galaxy, who believe he'll be ready to go quickly.
“Guys like this understand the culture and how teams work, and the guys welcomed him,” Sarachan said. “I think he's going to be a good addition.”