To state something we all know, the LA Galaxy were both the Supporter's Shield winners and MLS Cup winner this year. This was their second MLS Cup appearance in three years and their second straight Supporter's Shield winner. As Bruce Arena is both head coach and general manager (or as I like to call him, manager), it's worthwhile to look at how he has used his core, and how he's been able to replace the minutes the Galaxy have lost.
Using a methodology I first saw at Hot Time in Old Town, I want to see what percentage of total Galaxy minutes were played by players they protected in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft. Ideally, the players worth enough to protect from the expansion draft are the players who will contribute the most over the course of the season.
Galaxy total protected minutes: 21,085/Galaxy total MLS minutes 2011: 33,660 = 62.6% of total minutes.
While we're yet to use a metric which will deal with total turnover, what we have done is highlighted some of the Galaxy's priorities last season, and how they were dealt with over the course of the regular season. This might seem like rehashing or simple recap, but it's crucial to see how the Galaxy have operated in the past to understand how they're likely to operate in the future.
Obviously, the biggest blow to the Galaxy last offseason was losing Edson Buddle. After being protected in the expansion draft, Buddle left to Germany which kept the Galaxy for getting anything in return. It took the Galaxy two different DPs and MLS's first time paying an EPL transfer fee to fix the hole Buddle left in the lineup.
The injury to Donovan Ricketts was another serious blow, but Josh Saunders played above and beyond stepping up into that spot. Michael Stephens, the previous year's first round pick, had to be protected when the only midfielder locked up in an extended contract is Landon Donovan. Birchall, I'd argue took a step back with the rise of Mike Magee.
Adding in the entire returning roster, 77% of the Galaxy's minutes this were played by someone on the 2010 roster. In 2010, 81% of the Galaxy's total minutes were played by someone on the 2009 roster. Interestingly, 2009 was a year of high turnover, on 42% of the minutes were played by returning players, and the Galaxy were a shootout away from winning the cup that year.
The biggest constants through these three years have been Bruce Arena and Landon Donovan, and when he's been available David Beckham as well. Arena has shown an amazing ability to plug the holes in the Galaxy roster. I don't think enough credit can be given for bringing in Robbie Keane midseason when Juan Pablo Angel wasn't working out.
Now looking at the players chose to protect this year:
A few differences between this year and last year. Ricketts was saved so that Bruce Arena could get something out of his redundancy at keeper, and Ricketts turned into allocation money. The likely reason Arena felt the need for more allocation money, is because with three top performers free to negotiate wherever they please.
The issue with Juninho was that not only was he on loan, but his contract with Sao Paolo had run out. A Brazilian sports news twitter account tweeted earlier that Juninho had signed a three year contract with Sao Paolo. Whether that means they'll loan him out again or if they want him to return home is yet to be seen.
Then there's still the issue of David Beckham and Sean Franklin. Right now, the LA Galaxy can return a maximum of 88% of their 2011 minutes. Losing Juninho would drop that percentage to 81%. Losing another some 4,500 minutes in Beckham in Franklin is going to drop that percentage even further.
Still, Bruce Arena was able to take a high turnover 2009 team to the MLS Cup final. It's the 80% teams that were able to post 1.9 PPM, but the 2009 team averaged 1.6 PPM in a year where the Supporter's Shield winner had 1.63 PPM.
So far, no Galaxy player has gone the way of Edson Buddle, declaring he's leaving the team. If Bruce can return around 80% of last year's minutes, rejoice for it will likely be more of the same. Keep in mind, teams need turnover. No one wants to see a champion dismantled, but this unit has been together for three years; it wouldn't be a bad thing if Arena were forced to bring in some new blood.
Which is already happening. Arena saw something in Marcelo Sarvas, and he could be an emerging star in the midfield. Michael Stephens needs to start his progression toward being an every week starter for the Galaxy. It's highly likely Arena goes after a defensive back in the draft, but remember Leonardo is still under contract and could go center mid with A.J. DeLaGarza at right back where Arena originally wanted to use him.
It's so easy to panic. It's much more difficult to trust when faced with the unknowns the Galaxy are facing. However, winning at the clip the Galaxy have been over the last three years should buy Arena a bit of the benefit of the doubt. I for one can't wait.