By Sean McElroy
The Los Angeles Galaxy have a true abundance of riches. They have two of the best goalkeepers in MLS, Donovan Ricketts and Josh Suanders. They possess a back line of young, promising (and I might add, mostly American) players, notably Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, and AJ DelaGarza, mixed in with the veteran talent of Gregg Berhalter and others. Several of that young group have a serious future with the US National team, and the two vets of the bunch has graced the field at the World Cup, which is of course the pinnacle of soccer achievement. In addition, they have two solid target men (Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman), as well as one of the most talented attacking midfielders in MLS in Juninho. They have the US National team legend and Free Beer Movement spiritual leader Frankie Hedjuk to provide experience in defense, and a variety of other solid players. And this is before you consider their three designated players. Add Landon Donovan and David Beckham to that group, two players who belong in the first eleven of an English Premier League side, and you have the most dangerous soccer club in the history of Major League Soccer.
But, unsatisfied with the performances of a certain Colombian striker, the Los Angeles Galaxy gave away Juan Pablo Angel to Chivas USA for essentially a family four-pack to a future Chivas Playoff game (they ought to at least outdraw the Jaguars now) (seriously, a third round supplemental pick? For a DP?). After giving up Angel for essentially a free transfer, the Galaxy bought the Irish striker Robbie Keane, not the band, the footballer, who had been courted by various English Premier League and Championship sides, and brought him to create a trio of attacking terror which should strike fear into the hearts of any MLS defense.
Unless you are from LA, or have a serious man-crush on Landon Donovan (I understand the appeal), you should despise the Los Angeles Galaxy. They are the Manchester United of MLS, a tour de force of unstoppable striking ability mixed with a talented young defense that is constantly improving, coached by perhaps the most successful coach (this is to bait my TYAC editors and fellow readers into commenting) in the history of American soccer. This is a team that not only could win the MLS Cup, the Supporter’s Shield and the CONCACAF Champions League, but a club where if they do not manage at least the first two, they are, in the words of Grant Wahl, a failure.
AEG, which owns the Staples Center, the Home Depot Center, and of course the Los Angeles Galaxy, have built a super-club in the United States. That’s right, the Los Angles Galaxy are America’s first super-club, with the most recognizable, and some would say greatest, American player in Landon Donovan as their captain. Beckham, perhaps still the most famous footballer in the world, provides experience and a global face. Keane, a new signing, presents a dangerous distraction and a fantastic target men for the creative midfielders. This is a team that should beat every other MLS team handily—they are clear top-of-the-table, and their three losses this year feel like flukes, a result of the demanding schedule of MLS rather than of any deficiency in skill, talent, or desire.
Now, fair readers of The Yanks Are Coming, at this point, you might be attacking me (admittedly, a Galaxy fan for over a decade) as blowing up the accomplishments of a team that has yet to really win anything in its present form aside from the Supporters Shield in 2010. How can the Beckham Experiment be a success, the argument goes, if the Galaxy lack the silverware to back up the claims of pundits that they are a super-club. The short and fair answer- it can’t be. Except…
Having watched the Galaxy play live several times this summer, I am ready to back up the following claim. The Galaxy will handily win the MLS Cup come November, and they will advance from their group in the CONCACAF Champions League. The fact that the MLS Cup will take place at the Home Depot Center, coupled with the Galaxy’s dominant 2-0 wins to start of the Champions League group stage, and their solid lead at the top of the MLS table, only act to solidify my point. This is the first team that has emerged from a “balanced” league to show the potential to not just win, but to dominate, over an extended period of time. (This is especially true if AEG is willing to fund new signings to replace, when the need arises, the three Designated Players that are presently on roster. The circumstance of Juan Pablo Angel’s trade to Chivas USA and the signing of Robbie Keane seem to support my sense that this will, in fact, continue in the future). The danger of players like Keane and Beckham is not only their offensive production, but that they fundamentally transform how teams have to play against them, and enable players like Cristman, or Juninho, to have an enormous amount of freedom in their play while defenses use most of their resources trying to stop the Galaxy’s DPs. The Galaxy are so dangerous that, like the top European sides (to scale, of course), their rivals are simply not equipped to handle their attacking prowess.
But, while I have said that its okay to despise the Galaxy, especially in MLS play, we cannot deny that the potential of a Galaxy Champions League title bears perhaps the greatest potential upside of club silverware for the future of American soccer. Like it or not, the Galaxy are the best-known MLS club in the world, and this side effect of the Beckham Experiment cannot be overlooked. They are of a higher profile—their signings make the top story on BBC Sport. Aside from the New York Red Bulls, who carry the atrocious name with them like a scarlet letter, no other team has this effect. And the Red Bulls suffer from what I like to call the Buzz Aldren effect. Sure, they have a world-class player in his thirties in Thierry Henry, but you don’t get the worldwide recognition and fame that the Galaxy received when they did it first. The primacy of the Beckham signing means that if American soccer is to prove itself on the international stage, the success of the Galaxy is the second best case scenario for pushing the popularity of the sport stateside in other countries. The best case scenario, by the way, we saw glimpses of in the summer of 2010– where the USMNT captured hearts and fans in many European countries because people loved the passion they brought to the field. The Ghana loss slowed the process– the Galaxy can speed it back up.
When I visited England last year, I went to a party at the University of Liverpool. One rather tipsy chap, while taking sips on his bottle of wine, told me that he respected me for supporting Fulham, “rather than any of those other glory-hunting clubs.” He then asked me about football stateside. After hearing I was from Los Angeles, he told me his favorite club in MLS was clearly the Los Angeles Galaxy, likely because of the Beckham signing. Perhaps, in a few years, that response will elicit the same answer that “Who’s your favorite EPL team?” question elicits stateside– “Oh, I support of Manchester United.” If it does, an accusation of glory-hunting is okay. Why? It can only be eliminated with a justification of fandom that extends far beyond the “I support them because I have heard of them” claim. Trophies provide ample justification.
As a fan of any other team, you should despise the Galaxy for it, just as you loathe United. But do it and be wary– one thing we must all accept and far greater writers than I understand is that if MLS is to grow and expand into one of the great leagues, it must have super-club like the Los Angeles Galaxy of the early 2010s.
Sean McElroy is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @fulhamerican.