Bruce Arena confident winter moves, 2015 signings will propel LA Galaxy

Bruce Arena feels confident in the Galaxy's dealings despite the club losing linchpins Omar Gonzalez and Juninho.
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BALTIMORE — It’s an atypical offseason for the LA Galaxy. Rather than celebrating another a title, the five-time MLS champion is moving on from a campaign that was its worst since 2008. Bruce Arena took charge that August and LA has pretty much ruled the roost since.

As August concluded, it looked once again like the Galaxy were finding their footing and rounding into playoff form. Then came a 1-0 setback in San Jose and an almost surreal 1-5-2 stretch that ended with LA's worst regular-season point total in six years and an MLS Cup knockout round loss to the Seattle Sounders. This was a team that could be counted on to get hot as the weather cooled. But LA was anything but last fall.

“The story of our season was the horrible October. I don’t know why it happened, exactly, but we do have some understandings on that and that’s probably some of the reasons we’ve had the changes we had,” Arena told here in Baltimore, the site of Thursday’s MLS draft.

Among those changes were the off-season departures to Liga MX of central defender Omar Gonzalez, a key cog in three MLS Cup winning teams who’s moved on to Pachuca; and central midfielder Juninho, who left for Club Tijuana. And while rumors surrounding LA’s interest in English left back Ashley Cole and center back Joleon Lescott have surfaced, Arena made a couple moves Thursday that exemplified the club’s “win now” approach. First, he traded the club’s first-round draft pick to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for targeted allocation money. Then he signed former MLS MVP Mike Magee.

A member of the league’s first free-agent class, Magee, 31, left the Galaxy in 2013 largely for family reasons. He was brilliant at first for his hometown Chicago Fire, scoring 15 goals in 21 league games and winning MLS’s highest individual honor. But the club struggled, and he was knocked out for 10 months with a hip injury suffered in the summer of 2014. Magee joins 32-year-old central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz—perhaps Steven Gerrard’s new partner—and 33-year-old goalkeeper Dan Kennedy on Arena’s list of veteran offseason additions.

LA will also announce the signing of Ghanaian forward Emmanuel Boateng on Thursday. The 21-year-old moved to the U.S. to attend high school and played at UC Santa Barbara before joining Sweden’s Helsingborgs IF in 2013.

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“He’s capable of still scoring lot in this league and being a very good player,” Arena said of Magee. “We believe he’s pretty healthy now and has a lot left to him. I think he’s a good choice and complements the group of players we have. We’re going to need some depth. One of our flaws last year was we were very limited in terms of replacing our top group of attacking players. This year, I believe, we’ve got cover in every position.”

Indeed, LA lost Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes regularly to international duty. In addition, as is often the case with midseason foreign additions, Dos Santos and Gerrard took time to acclimate.

“I don’t think that’s the only reason why it didn’t work out in the end. It’s part of the reason,” Arena said of the Designated Players’ summer arrival. “I would be very surprised if they’re not much better in 2016 than they were in 2015.”

With Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Gonzalez and Juninho now departed, the identity and core of the team that many observers felt was the best in MLS history now has changed for good. Keane remains, of course, and defenders A.J. DeLaGarza and Robbie Rogers remain among the best at their positions. But LA’s success now depends on newer names. Can Gerrard and Dos Santos integrate and dominate? Can Sebastian Lletget build on the promise he showed last season? Will LA have the depth to rediscover its knack for hitting its stride when others start to fade?

“I think there have been changes that are good and hopefully make us better,” Arena said. “I think we’ve made the right kind of moves to date and there’s going to be a couple others in the next few weeks and I think that’ll make a difference for our team.”