The LA Galaxy started off 2013 strong, but as the season continued on the Galaxy lacked the consistency to distinguish themselves amongst the top. By the end of the season the top of the league was a muddle. While two strong teams did eventually emerge and give observers a great MLS Cup final, the season lacked a team against which all others are defined. That's something LA hopes to give MLS in 2014.
Manager Bruce Arena is confident that the changes he's made serve to make the club better. While the club will need top shelf performances from returning players like Robbie Keane, Robbie Rogers, A.J. DeLaGarza, Juninho, and Gyasi Zardes as well as Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez currently with the US national team, new players have already started to stake their claim to playing time in 2014.
Samuel features in the practice gallery, and he's joined by Rob Friend, Baggio Husidic, Kyle Venter, FWM, and late 2013 season addition Jaime Penedo as players Arena has added to bring more consistency to the club. Quality and experience were buzzwords as Arena addressed the media, words that suggest Arena would rather not have been forced to use so many young prospects last season
"There have been changes," said Bruce Arena. "I don't think a considerable amount, but there have been changes that are important for our team. We have additions and I'm going to include Jaime Penedo as an addition since he came in so late. I think the combination of those six players give us both quality and experience in a lot of positions."
One key difference between the younger players and the veterans is the older players' ability to play multiple roles. It's difficult to ask a college player who's only seen the game from one angle to try it from the other side of the pitch, but veterans are used to adjusting their game to fit a variety of situations.
Landon Donovan is an big example there, a player switched around enough that his position listing for All-Star voting and the like is always controversial. Last season Donovan lined up as a forward sixteen times, six times as a right midfielder, and once as a left midfielder. His best ratings were as a right midfielder, but his goals came as a forward. Arena hopes that the additions at forward and midfield will allow him to use Donovan more consistently in one position.
The back line will need to fight for consistency as well, with Omar Gonzalez having national team duties as A.J. DeLaGarza suddenly finding himself the starting right back. The Galaxy have drafted a center back in three straight drafts, as well as the young Leonardo, and one of those players needs to establish themselves as a starting center back.
"Last year one of our biggest weaknesses is that we were inconsistent," said Arena. "We were one of the top teams in scoring goals and believe it or not one of the top teams in defending, especially in the last half of the season. I don't think the results were consistent. I'm hoping that we have a little bit more quality and little bit more experience this year that will allow us to perform more consistently."
Buzzwords aside, it's clear that this offseason has been used to greater effect than Galaxy fans have seen in a few years.