MLS teams are never really praised for their depth. The salary cap, roster limitations and host of league rules, from discovery claims to allocations and the draft, make building depth quite the chore. That really shows when teams go through stretches of many matches in many days and with more and more matches and competitions, fixture congestion and inadequate depth is becoming a reality for many MLS teams. That includes the Galaxy, who have balanced two competitions and friendlies already this season with another competition to come.
So far this season the Galaxy have played 26 matches and there are at least 19 left this season with that number almost assuredly climbing higher considering LA being almost guaranteed a playoff appearance. That's a lot of matches for a 30-man squad, of which only 23 or so are really usable and several others are only used when in a pinch.
Never will the Galaxy's depth be tested more than now, when they are in a stretch that sees them play 11 matches in 42 days. Those matches include MLS, U.S. Open Cup and friendlies. Even when it appears that the grind will get easier after that stretch, it doesn't. After the 11-match stretch, the Galaxy will get a deserved 11 day break, only to start another stretch that will see them play 15 times in 67 days. When that stretch comes to an end, the Galaxy will start their playoff campaign. There isn't much downtime for the team.
Fixture congestion brings one huge problem. Players get injured. Tired bodies and not much time to recover from little nagging issues leads to injuries and with one match after another, they miss more matches when they are injured causing the injury to seem worse than it is. Omar Gonzalez, Chad Barrett, Mike Magee, David Beckham and Frankie Hejduk have all battled injuries during this recent stretch of matches. They're added to the more long-term injuries to Donovan Ricketts and Leonardo. The list just continues to get longer, making it all the tougher to handle all the matches.
To handle all of the matches Bruce Arena has had to move away from using his first choice squad match after match. Either due to injuries or the need to rest starters, Gregg Berhalter, Paolo Cardozo, Adam Cristman, Bryan Jordan, Jovan Kirovski, Miguel Lopez and Josh Saunders have all had to step in and play some part in figuring out how to make it through 90 minutes. We've seen the perils of digging deep into the bench, but also have seen others step up and perform adequately or even better.
How the Galaxy handle the fixture congestion going forward will be interesting. Before long, competition prioritization will be an issue and this even with the U.S. Open Cup in the rearview mirror. By mid-August Arena will have to decide whether to play his best team in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, save them for the MLS matches and the Supporters Shield. By October Arena will have to decide whether he should rest his players in the Champions League and MLS, jeopardizing their chances at a Champions League trophy and Supporters Shield, to prepare for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Which competitions matter most?
With all the matches, Arena and the Galaxy will be forced to decide. The team is up against the salary cap so signings are unlikely and trades are becoming rarer and rarer in the league as the years go by. The team that the Galaxy have now is in all likelihood the team that the Galaxy will have to go with as they aim for a Supporters Shield, a spot in the Champions League knockout stages and a MLS Cup and how Arena handle that team could be the biggest factor in their success chasing trophies.