The heartache for Liverpool fans has been significant these past few weeks. The news that club legend Steven Gerrard would be leaving for America, MLS, and the Los Angeles Galaxy was met with shock, disappointment, and even anger for some. Everyone had expected the club's longtime legend to retire as a Red, taking his final bow and curtain call at Anfield Road, ending his career where it began. Knowing that, at least for now, he'll be calling another stadium home is... difficult.
Gerrard literally grew up as a Liverpool player, hailing from an area of Liverpool just 20 minutes from the club's historic stadium and coming up through the club's academy before becoming its most integral player of the last seventeen years. He's the club's longest-serving captain, has overseen some of its greatest triumphs, and been the heart and soul of this team almost from the moment he first stepped on the pitch. Losing any long-time player hurst, but Steven Gerrard leaving Liverpool ends an era for the club.
The Galaxy, though, are ending an era of their own, and hope that Gerrard can help fill the shoes that Landon Donovan leaves behind. In a lot of ways, Gerrard is a good replacement for Donovan, albeit in a very different role on the pitch. Both are strong leaders, if not extremely vocal ones like you'd traditionally expect from a club captain. Both bring a wealth of international experience and success to the table, and can fill crucial roles for the Galaxy on the pitch.
Off the pitch, though, Gerrard is someone who you probably won't see acclimatizing too heavily to the LA lifestyle. He's always been a quieter man who focuses more on his family when he's not playing; he and his wife, Alex Curran, have three daughters between the ages of three and ten, and with that responsibility he seems to have largely put nightlife and partying behind him over the past few years.
While at 34 years old Gerrard isn't the international superstar he once was, he can still give the Galaxy a lot of value. The slightly slower pace and different style of MLS compared to the English Premier League will give him more time on the ball to use his ability to read the pitch and execute top-notch passes and good long-range shooting, and his right leg can still put in a better free kick than almost anyone in America.
There are going to be some limitations for Gerrard once he hits the West Coast, though. Age and injuries have sapped his ability to sprint from box to box as he did when he was younger, severely limiting his mobility and utility. While he's not quite a statue, in order to most effectively utilize him, the Galaxy will need to use a box-to-box runner in midfield to help make up for his lack of mobility, preferably one with better defensive quality than Gerrard brings to the table.
While it's not necessarily a formation that Bruce Arena has frequently utilized in the past, moving to some variation of a 4-3-3 would be the best way to utilize his new star. That would allow Gerrard to be the most advanced midfielder and combine with one-time Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane and LA's wingers from areas near the opponent's box. That's where his passing vision and shooting ability will do the Galaxy the most good, as well as limit his defensive liabilities.
Against sides that press more aggressively than most in MLS do, Gerrard could have issues. A solid and consistent press has been the best way to neutralize Gerrard in England for a couple of years now, denying him the time or space he needs to do his work these days. Liverpool tried moving him deeper and deeper on the pitch to avoid this issue, but that just left them more vulnerable defensively, especially against the counter, and never really got him fully away from the press against some teams. Fortunately, the press isn't as heavily utilized in MLS, at least not to that extent, but it's still going to need to be something that LA thinks about and accounts for in their tactical planning before each match.
For those expecting Gerrard to be David Beckham Part Two... well, you won't get that. He doesn't have the flair or style of his former England international teammate, preferring a more nose-to-the-grindstone approach. While Gerrard is good with free kicks, he's not quite the specialist at dead balls that Beckham was, though he offers LA more from open play than Becks did. He'll still need the team retooled around him like Beckham did, but that won't be quite as difficult a task as he offers somewhat better balance on the pitch.
For the next season and a half that he'll be part of the Galaxy squad, Gerrard can offer them a lot of quality and help lead them to many wins. While he might not be quite good enough or energetic enough to play every match for a higher-level club like Liverpool as he wants to, taking a bit of a step down to MLS could be just what he needs to keep playing at a high level more frequently. That's not a slight on MLS in any ways, it's a very good and rapidly-improving league. The difference is that the pace and style of play in the league simply suit Gerrard better at this stage of his career than the EPL does right now.
Hopefully Gerrard can lift a couple more trophies in his career. It's unfortunate that those won't come with Liverpool once he leaves after this season, but at least it will give the chance for another fanbase to come to love and appreciate Gerrard like the Kop faithful do. The only thing we ask is that you please not break him while you have him. Gerrard is much more fun when he's not broken.