The 2011 Los Angeles Galaxy season started on March 15. On March 20 Juan Pablo Angel had made his debut with the club and by March 21 he was already (correctly) deemed too old and useless. Okay, that may be harsh. Angel came in with great fanfare and even as he struggled early on in the season the hope was that he was just struggling to get fit after missing much of the preseason with injury. It was a reasonable hope considering he was a Colombian international who scored 58 goals for the New York Red Bulls in the last four years, but then March turned to April. April turned to May and by June it was clear. The striker had lost it and Galaxy supporters were clamoring for a replacement, any replacement. Heck, Adam Cristman was deemed to be an upgrade! Then a man by the name of Robbie Keane came up and all of a sudden the Galaxy had themselves a savior.
There are two ways to look at the expectations Galaxy fans have for Keane. One is that Angel was so horribly bad that anything else is an upgrade. Despite non-existant striker play, LA is atop MLS and just a week ago took down arguably their top challenger, FC Dallas, by coming from a goal down with three of their own. They're third in the league in goals and Chad Barrett leads Galaxy strikers with four goals. All Keane has to do is be better than Angel, which won't be hard, and the Galaxy will put in goals left and right, they'll move further in front of any challengers and the Irishman will be a hero, right?
Keane could also be held to extraordinarily high expectations. Galaxy fans have seen the low and now it is time to see the high. Keane is not in the prime of his career, but at 31 years old he isn't at his end either. He is just a year removed from scoring 16 goals in 19 appearances for Celtic. He is still an Ireland international with six goals in five matches for the national team this year and 10 goals in 19 matches for Ireland in 2009 and 2010. This is no slouch that the Galaxy are hoping they can get a goal or two out of before the embalming takes hold. They didn't just pay Keane a fat salary, but also a $5.7 million transfer fee. Keane is here to score often and lead the Galaxy to glory.
So what is a reasonable expectation for Keane? As is usually the case, the answer is between two extremes. Simply being better than Angel does not make him a savior or I too would be a savior. At the same time, LA can still be had in the midfield. David Beckham isn't closing down space and Juninho isn't a destroyer by any means. Chris Birchall can't hold the ball and Landon Donovan can only be used in the midfield or at striker, not both. Wherever he isn't is a weak spot for the team.
When the Galaxy were on their way to the Supporters Shield last year they were essentially stranding Edson Buddle alone up top. He put in an incredible amount of work and took a pounding. That's not something that Keane can do. He's only 5'9'' to Buddle's 6'1'' and Buddle is a much stronger player. Stranding Keane is not an option like it was with Buddle.
If the Galaxy are going to be successful then Keane is going to need help. He is a clinical finisher and makes some brilliant runs. Get him service and someone else up top and he will find space. He'll create something from nothing in the box and manage to get a shot away in what looks like a dead end of options. The Irishman needs help to do it though so to expect him to carry an attack with 10 goals down the stretch while the rest of the team watches is a little much.
There is no doubt that Keane will be a major upgrade for the Galaxy. Simply having someone who can get on the end of passes and finish with regularity is good for a half dozen goals when you're on a team with Beckham and Donovan. The passes will be there. He can help out the rest of the team with his ability to hold the ball and ably distribute when he drops deeper, an outlet for a midfield that can find itself overwhelmed at times. There will be times that his pure work rate (it is cliche, but he does have that Irish tenacity) will give the Galaxy a chance they probably don't deserve.
Keane brings a lot to Galaxy. How much can be debated, but there is little debate that he can bring more than what Angel was giving the team. That means the best team in MLS just got a lot better. Not too shabby.
Note: Angel was whipped at a lot in this piece and while no apologies will be made for the repeated criticisms of his awful play it must be noted that it is only a criticism of his play and not the person. Angel has just reached the end of his line, but even while struggling with the Galaxy his work ethic was never under question and he handled himself admirably so it is impossible to do anything except wish the man well.