LA Galaxy Head Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena dismissed key members of his MLS Cup championship teams and brought in a group of veterans. The atypical move has worked impeccably so far.
Bruce Arena was hailed as the “Alex Ferguson in America” by LA Galaxy captain Robbie Keane earlier this year. And while the comparison may provoke eyes to roll in disapproval across the U.S. (and England), it’s impossible to deny Arena’s ability to reinvent his teams in order to consistently challenge for titles.
The 2016 MLS season is still at a young stage but it has already offered a glimpse of how great Arena’s “new” LA Galaxy can be. Undefeated in eight games, Arena’s men look threatening in offense. They also have been able to recover their confidence on the road, something that was lacking last season.
And they’re doing it with class:
Coming off one of his most disappointing regular seasons with the Galaxy in 2015, Arena decided to make drastic changes. The 64-year-old parted ways with U.S. international defender Omar Gonzalez and Brazilian midfielder Juninho, both key members of the Galaxy teams that won MLS Cup in 2011, 2012 and 2014. He then opted to retool the Galaxy with a crop of veteran players, including Ashley Cole, Nigel De Jong and former MLS MVP Mike Magee.
The moves were received with skepticism, from the media to the fans. Even long-time Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza didn’t know what was going on, making his feelings known after finding out Gonzalez and Juninho were gone:
Fast-forward five months and the Galaxy look like a balanced team led by veterans. Robbie Keane missed some time but returned to score twice in the Galaxy’s 4-2 win over the New England Revolution last weekend. In his absence, fellow Designated Player Giovani dos Santos was able to rediscover his form, scoring in five goals in his last five games. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard has been dominant, assisting Magee’s goal in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw in Philadelphia and providing classy moments such as this one:
Still, the work is just beginning for the unrelenting Arena, who will need to find ways to keep his veteran squad fresh through the rest of the season. Keane, Cole and Gerrard are all 35 years old, and the Englishmen are still adjusting to the grueling travel in MLS. Meanwhile, players like Jelle Van Damme, 32, and De Jong, 31, are also adjusting to the league. At least De Jong is getting a little break after getting suspended for three games for doing Nigel De Jong things.
Fortunately for Arena, his old-timers are backed by a solid group of young players. Besides Dos Santos’ timely return to form, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget and newcomer Emmanuel Boateng have been able to provide the speed and physicality needed to build a composed team.
While it’s still early in the season, it’d be ill-advised to bet against Arena’s soccer mind. After all, that’s the guy who has been winning titles in MLS since the 90s. It’s not quite the same to Sir Alex, but still impressive.