It’s been an offseason of change for MLS’s most storied franchise. Gone are Omar Gonzalez and Juninho, both of whom were building blocks for a team that won three MLS Cups in four years. To replace them, the LA Galaxy have brought in former Belgian international Jelle Van Damme and World Cup veteran Nigel de Jong. To go along with those two signings Bruce Arena brought in one of the best left backs of the last 15 years in Ashley Cole.
This goes along with the additions the team made in the middle of the 2015 season, when they signed Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos. The Galaxy failed to adjust to their new additions and were eliminated in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs by the Seattle Sounders. Arena will be hoping that dos Santos, former MLS MVP Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes can establish a positive relationship that will lead to goals. Gerrard and de Jong’s relationship will also be key in the Galaxy’s success as de Jong will be expected to cover much of the ground in central midfield.
Arena's future is uncertain after 2016, as he is in the last year of contract, but bringing home a CONCACAF Champions League trophy could be the perfect way to send the legendary coach off into the sunset.
- Robbie Keane – Perhaps the most productive player in MLS history, Keane is coming off his first 20-goal season for the Galaxy. He is the focal point of a productive Galaxy attack that should threaten the Santos Laguna backline consistently. Zardes’ apparent return to striker could give Keane more opportunities to distribute.
- Steven Gerrard – Gerrard came to the Galaxy in the middle of last season and after scoring a goal in his first game, he had a bit of a rough go of it. He struggled to form a bond with the now-departed Juninho in the center of midfield. Galaxy fans will be looking for the Liverpool legend to perform at a higher level entering 2016.
- Giovani dos Santos – The El Tri forward played 10 games for the Galaxy in 2015 and did have some success, scoring three goals and assisting on five others. He may be asked to play on the wing more in 2016, which is something has done infrequently in recent years, should Gyasi Zardes prove to be more effective up top.
The Galaxy have long revolved around the skills of Keane, a forward who likes to drop deep, receive the ball and distribute the ball to his teammates all across the field. It just so happens that he is also a world-class finisher. He has amassed an incredible 73 goals and 43 assists in just 108 games over the course of his MLS career. The problem for the Galaxy is that those skills overlap with their other star forward, Giovani dos Santos.
Look for dos Santos and Zardes to flip positions more often in CCL, which could give Keane more options once he receives the ball. Gerrard will also be asked to do more playmaking as de Jong was brought into eat up the space that Juninho couldn’t in 2015. The backline was also overhauled as Van Damme will be converted from a left back to center back and Robbie Rogers has moved from left back to right back. AJ DeLaGarza should provide some stability at center back, but he has historically fared better with Gonzalez next to him than without.
- GK: Dan Kennedy
- RB: Robbie Rogers
- CB: Jelle Van Damme
- CB: AJ DeLaGarza
- LB: Ashley Cole
- RM: Giovani dos Santos
- CM: Nigel de Jong
- CM: Steven Gerrard
- LM: Sebastian Lletget
- F: Gyasi Zardes
- F: Robbie Keane
The Galaxy have won a continental trophy in their history, the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup, which was the precursor to the Champions League.
The Galaxy have a ton of talent, as World Cup veterans and MLS standouts litter the roster. But as with most MLS-Liga MX matchups, taking care of business at home will be essential. They will be facing off against a Santos Laguna that has haunted MLS teams in CCL in the past, but luckily for the Galaxy, Santos are not in their top form. If the Galaxy can create some cohesion in the preseason and into this matchup, they could make a deep run in the tournament.