Glamor lies on the pitches of Europe for many of our finest stars. But, as pioneers like Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley have proven, those who do most of their work stateside are just — if not more important — to USMNT hopes. This is the story of the players and teams of the MLS, American soccer’s National Guard.
In the second MLS Preview I broke down Chivas USA, the Clippers of the Los Angeles soccer scene. Well, here are MLS’ Lakers, the LA Galaxy.
The Galaxy are MLS royalty, having won four MLS Cups, including two in a row in 2011 and 2012. Like the Lakers, the Galaxy had their version of showtime in the latter half of the 2000’s. David Beckham played the Magic Johnson role as the flashy superstar, while Landon Donovan settled in as the brooding, shockingly under-appreciated second banana, a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Even though Beckham has retired, Donovan still has Ireland international Robbie Keane up front to partner with.
Led by former USMNT boss Bruce Arena, the Galaxy are a perennial playoff team. As one of the league’s marquis franchises, L.A. will get everybody’s best effort in every game. The Galaxy should ease into the playoffs once again, where anything is possible in MLS’ winner-take-all format.
Jürgen Klinsmann will be paying attention to the Galaxy’s exploits in 2014. In addition to Donovan, center back Omar Gonzalez should find himself on the plane to Brazil. Gonzalez still has work to do, but my money has him starting versus Ghana.
DREAMS OF BRAZIL: Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez
If you’re on this blog, there is a really good chance you know who Landon Donovan is. If you’re new, here’s the Sparknotes version of his career:
- Donovan needs just ten more caps to become America’s all-time leader in games played.
- He’s the USMNT all-time leading scorer and deserves a lot of credit for helping turn the Stars and Stripes from regional power to global contender.
- He has three of the most memorable goals in USMNT history: the second against Mexico in !Dos a Cero World Cup Edition!; the group winner facing elimination versus Algeria in the 2010 World Cup; and a tap in to achieve that infamous score against Mexico in 2013, on the night the USA qualified for the World Cup.
Remember my Kareem comparison? With his next goal, Donovan breaks a tie with Jeff Cunningham as MLS’ most prolific scorer. Enjoy Brazil Landon.
Gonzalez is much less heralded than his star teammate, but he may be an even more important player than Donovan. When Gonzalez is at his best (See: Both Mexico WCQ’s in 2013) he is the best defender the USMNT has. Gonzalez has all but wrapped up a spot at the World Cup, but must continue to improve to hold on to his starting role. An unstoppable force in the air, Gonzalez’s biggest problem is maintaining consistency. If he makes a mistake early, he presses to try to make up for it. When he’s on his game, he raises the USMNT back line to another level.
Other Names to Note: None
FUTURE GOLD CUP HEROES: Robbie Rogers
Rogers made headlines in 2013 for becoming the first openly gay American soccer player. He retired, then un-retired and was traded to the Galaxy from Chicago for Mike Magee. The trade was questioned at the time, and after Magee won the MLS MVP, critically panned. Rogers struggled with Los Angeles, a combination of rust and the pressure that came with being put directly in the spotlight. In addition to being a great ambassador for the gay community, Rogers is a pretty damn good soccer player. He has two goals in eighteen matches for the USMNT, and was one of the best wingers in MLS from 2009-2011 before moving to Europe. With a lot less pressure in 2014, a strong season from Rogers could vault him back into the USMNT conversation. He scored the first goal of the Klinsmann era, so don’t think the American manager has forgotten about him.
Other Names to Note: Baggio Husidic (M)
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN ME IN FIFA: Robbie Keane, Forward, Ireland
Keane has been scoring goals for a long time, bagging 62 of them for the Irish National Team since 1998. A long time veteran of the Premier League, primarily with Tottenham Hotspur, Keane’s move to Los Angeles was one of the biggest in league history. In each of his first two seasons, Keane found the net sixteen times. Expect another high scoring campaign for 33-year-old Irishman in 2014.
In addition to Keane, watch out for Juninho, who has been one of the better midfielders in MLS since his arrival in 2010. USMNT fans know all about Penedo, who made big save after big save for Panama in three hard fought battles against the Americans in 2013.
Other Names to Note: Rob Friend (F – Canada), Stefan Ishizaki (M – Sweden), Juninho (M – Brazil), Jaime Penedo (GK – Panama), Samuel (D – Brazil), Marcelo Sarvas (M – Brazil)
AS SIMPLE MINDS SAID, “DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME“: A.J. DeLaGarza
DeLaGarza made two appearances for the USMNT in 2012. He looked like a potential keeper in the back due to his ability to play each defensive position. Then in 2013, the 26 year old switched allegiances and pledged his commitment to…Guam?!?! What the hell, AJ? DeLaGarza went from being a possible contributor for the United States to the face of a club ranked 162nd in the FIFA rankings. Despite making a few appearances with Guam, he is not yet cap-tied and could return to the USMNT if he chooses. Just because his international career is at the moment irrelevant, does not mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to him. He works well with Gonzalez in defense, and there is always that outside chance he returns to the Stars and Stripes.
Other Names to Note: Todd Dunivant (D), Robbie Rogers (M)
GET READY FOR DOHA: Gyasi Zardes
Zardes came out of nowhere to score four goals for the Galaxy in 2013. At 22 he seeks to avoid a sophomore slump and should get a chance to serve as the first forward off the bench for a team with a plethora of attacking options. I suspect Arena will try to find a way to get him as much time as possible. Zardes likes to shoot. A lot. He averaged nearly three shots per game as a rookie, but must improve on actually putting the ball on net. His shooting accuracy of 29.5% ranked last amongst players with at least 75 shots. Still, the potential is there and everything about his game screams, “Eddie Johnson 2.0”, which is not a bad comparison for a striker coming off a rookie season.
Note: Jose Villarreal would be listed here, but he is spending 2014 on loan at Cruz Azul in Liga MX
Other Names to Note: Jack McBean (F), Kofi Opare (D), Oscar Sorto (D)
HOW MUCH DOES JÜRGEN CARE: 10 out of 10