CARSON, Calif.—The LA Galaxy haven't come into camp under Bruce Arena with so much unsettled since his first preseason with the club, seven years ago.
Club President Chris Klein doesn't believe that's a negative, and says that "it will all come into focus very clearly" once the Galaxy finalize their roster.
LA needed to make some changes this winter, both in reaction to MLS economics and to last year's end-of-season skid, falling from the top of the standings into a Knockout Round flameout – the earliest playoff exit in team history. The Galaxy have certainly made some big changes so far, allowing two major contributors to depart for Mexico even as they added depth in midfield, on the flanks and along the backline.
Tuesday, they announced the signing of Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, one of three foreign standouts with international experience (the others: English defender Ashley Cole and Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong) linked to LA. If they can sign all three, Klein says the Galaxy "feel very confident about the group we have and feel it's a stronger team than last year and feel that we can compete across all competitions and with all the things we have with international call-ups throughout the year."
Erstwhile LA defender Omar Gonzalez celebrates the Galaxy's 2014 MLS Cup victory
Gone are 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, who was sold last month to Pachuca, and influential Brazilian central midfielder Juninho, purchased by Club Tijuana. Klein called their departures "difficult," but believed they were necessary moves to continue building the Galaxy’s squad for the new season.
"The reality is that we live in a salary-cap world, and we can't keep everyone, so there are issues that arise on both sides," Klein told MLSsoccer.com. "Whether it's Omar and Juni and then it's with our club and how we have to build out our roster and how we have to evaluate the resources that we have in terms of our cap and the best way to manage it."
Gonzalez's contract – a Designated Player deal bought down under the salary-cap after the league's intial infusion of Targeted Allocation Money so the Galaxy could sign Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos – needed to be reworked, Klein says. But the sides weren't able to come to an agreement in discussions that began before the season ended.
Juninho asked for the move to Club Tijuana, which offered significantly larger remuneration.
"[It was] really an opportunity for him and an opportunity for us that opened up a tremendous amount of flexibility," Klein said. "He was never on our list of players that we wanted to move or a player that we wanted to get rid of. It all came down very quickly and, really, at the same time [as Gonzalez's move]."
The moves, along with a draft-day trade to acquire additional TAM, left LA with the wherewithal to fill the resulting holes on the backline and in central midfield. They targeted Van Damme, 32, de Jong, 31, and Cole, 35, while picking up three MLS veterans, promoting two players from the Galaxy II reserve team and signing 22-year-old Ghanaian forward Emmanuel Boateng, who attended high school and played college soccer in Santa Barbara.
Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz
Forward Mike Magee, the 2013 MLS MVP
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy arrived in a mid-December trade with FC Dallas, followed in close suit by signings of defender Daniel Steres and French goalkeeper Clement Diop from the reserve side, and free agents Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee signed on earlier this month.
Kennedy, Larentowicz and Magee are widely respected in MLS, as much for their leadership abilities as for their on-field contributions.
Magee, 31, played for the Galaxy from 2009 through 2014, departing for his hometown Chicago in a move that enabled LA to sign outside back Robbie Rogers as he returned from a brief retirement.
"He knows where all the groceries are and knows how to make his way around," Klein said. "Mike is always part of us, so having him back here is something we're excited about."
Larentowicz, 33, who was born in nearby Pasadena but grew up in Pennsylvania, has started at least 28 regular-season league games in each of the past nine seasons with New England and Chicago. He also can play on the backline.
"It's a positional need, for sure, and the qualities that Jeff has – first and foremost, his character and his leadership, both in New England and Chicago," Klein said. "I've played against Jeff, and everyone knows Jeff throughout the league as being one of 'those guys.'"
Kennedy, 33, who grew up in Orange County and starred at UC Santa Barbara, had been trying to get to the Galaxy since Chivas USA's demise following the 2014 season. LA needed a No. 1 goalkeeper after deciding to part ways with Donovan Ricketts, who arrived last July following Jaime Penedo's departure over contract terms.
Klein indicated the Galaxy looked into acquiring Kennedy before trading for Ricketts in 2015.
"I think the jury's still out [on Kennedy]," he said. "He played for a team that wasn't very good [during four years as Chivas USA's starter] and then didn't play a lot [during the final months of the season at Dallas] last year. But we know what he brings.
"We looked at bringing him in when Chivas went away. To be able to get him a year later and fill the void that was left by both Jaime and Donovan, and we knew we needed to upgrade there and be more stable there, he was the right guy."
The 5-foot-6 Boateng, 22, had been playing since 2013 with Swedish club Helsingborgs after a stint in the Premier Development League with the Ventura County Fusion.
"He's just a really great kid that has a tremendous upside, and he gives us a change of pace that maybe we haven't had," added Klein.
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Contemplating a starting XI should be simpler once the foreign signings are finalized – Klein says the Galaxy are close on Cole and "hopeful" on de Jong – but six, and perhaps seven, of their first-choice starters could be in their 30s.
"We can't argue that," Klein acknowledged. "I mean, even just look at it now, you've got [Steven] Gerrard and you've got [Robbie] Keane and you've got Kennedy, and if we make some additions, could be older players.
"I think it's important to understand, but you still have Gyasi [Zardes], who's young, Sebastian [Lletget] is young, Giovani's young, Robbie Rogers is still in his prime.We have kids like Jose [Villarreal] and Bradford Jamieson, Raul Mendiola. They have to deliver, and they have to step in and do the right things. David Romney in the back, a guy that we look to.
"We have very much a core that can build toward the future, and we think about that as much or more than we think about some of the outside signings that we make. It's about progress of our team over the course of the year, but it's about the progress of our young players as well."
LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena
All this leaves a lot of question marks as the Galaxy, which began preseason training on Friday, work towards their first game of the year, a February 24 CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal first leg against Santos Laguna at StubHub Center.
How will the chemistry develop? What will the lineup look like and which formation will be best suited?
It sure seems unsettled – for now.
"I think it will all come into focus very clearly when we're done signing players," says Klein. "And once that happens, I think there's a part of it, you want it to be unsettled, because there's competition for spots.
"But I think very quickly it will come into view."