Many rumors are swirling around the LA Galaxy this off-season, and with Bruce Arena saying things like, "it's going to be hard to keep our roster," it's hard to sit back and feel at ease when a complete roster implosion could very well be on the way.
Amidst these fears, Matt Doyle had this to say about the LA Galaxy in his recent Thursday Q & A.
"I think we'll see some pretty significant movement. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Zardes was sold (I'd take the money and run if I was the Galaxy), and I'm sure they're going to try to add some fullback depth. They'll also have a new goalkeeper next year." Doyle concluded on a rather ominous note, writing, "[h]onestly, though, I'm not sure how you fit Keane, GDS and Gerrard into the same lineup. No matter who they bring in, I don't expect LA to be elite in 2016."
But is Matt Doyle right? Are dark days ahead of the LA Galaxy? While I certainly share many of his concerns in regard to the tactical direction the Galaxy's recent signings have forced upon the team, I'm not convinced the situation is quite so dire.
I'm also not convinced that the panic which many fans have about the possible roster changes the Galaxy could be forced to make, is all that warranted, and here's why.
Let's play out a worst case scenario and see just how bad it really is. Let's assume the Galaxy take the offer on the table for Gyasi Zardes and can't find the money to keep Omar Gonzalez. Now, let's take it a step further and assume that the Galaxy are unable to retain Juninho and Sebastian Lletget, since both have contract options. What might that Galaxy team look like?
Here's what I envision in such a scenario.
Towards the end of the season, I wrote extensively about the Galaxy's inability to create shots from the flanks, and, in terms of chance creation, a Jose Villarreal / Raul Mendiola wing pairing is vastly superior to that of Sebastian Lletget and Gyasi Zardes. If you look at the numbers, when Jose Villarreal is healthy, he is one of the best play-makers in the league. While solid analytics are hard to come by in USL Pro, Raul Mendiola managed 0.5 assists per 90 in that league, which is staggeringly high.
From a tactical standpoint, a Jose Villarreal, Giovani dos Santos and Raul Mendiola, front three, is a mouth watering prospect. When running a single forward system, it often helps to have at least one attacking winger who blends the qualities of a winger and a forward. For an example, look no further than Krisztián Németh.
If the aim is to continue the Galaxy's short passing style, Jose Villarreal and Raul Mendiola fit this mold extremely well. Jose Villarreal's "natural position" is that of a withdrawn forward, and from my own scouting, few Galaxy players know how to make attacking runs behind when the ball is on the opposite side of the field, better than Raul Mendiola.
If you add on top of this, Giovani dos Santos' positional fluidity between forward and attacking midfielder (a true trequartista), and Keane's affinity for drifting outside and playing killer crosses, as laid out in the tiki-taco genome project, what you get is a ridiculously fluid attacking four where everyone doubles as a chance creator and a forward.
Another benefit of this attacking 4 is that it would be able to operate without consistent penetrating runs from Steven Gerrard, which, as we saw last season, left the Galaxy midfield positionally vulnerable when he made them, and easily isolatable on the wings, when he didn't. With less responsibility to be a guy that creates things around the box, Gerrard can sit back and play the more deep lying role which he ended his Liverpool career playing, offering circulation, pinpoint long balls, and the occasional savvy late run to the top of the box.
Gerrard sitting deeper would also give the Galaxy more defensive stability, combined with the defensive work rate of Jose Villarreal (1.8 tackles per 90) and Raul Mendiola. While the loss of Juninho certainly wouldn't be ideal, Kenney Walker's improved passing this year certainly softens the blow. If the Galaxy manage to hold on to Sebastian Lletget, this might also prove a good position for him, as centermid is his more natural position. Another option would be to choose to anchor the team with a more dedicated ball winner, in which case, Rafael Garcia would be an ideal choice.
Finally, we get to the loss of Omar Gonzalez. It's hard to say just how big of a hit this would be to the Galaxy. While Gonzalez certainly has been on the decline the last few years, it's hard to tell how ready Dave Romney is for prime-time. He's certainly looked good in all of his first team outings. Ultimately, however, the only real way to realize his true ceiling would be to give him meaningful minutes (the Dallas philosophy) so a Leonardo, Romney pairing certainly wouldn't be cause for major panic.
At the end of the day, while the Galaxy are certainly facing some tough roster decisions going forward, they should ultimately be okay given their depth, as long as they trust their youth. In fact, I would argue that some of these changes are welcome, like a forest fire that clears the way for future growth. With the youth movement that's currently sweeping MLS, and the level of talent that the Galaxy have on the bench, guys like Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez are dead weight, holding the club's true future back.
Of course, the true nightmare scenario would be that all of these roster moves end up happening, but the Galaxy, instead of trusting in their youth, go out into the market and pick up the likes of a Stefan Ishizaki or a Mika Vayrynen type player to start. If the Galaxy were to pull something like this, it would be a true step backwards, and a short sighted blunder. In order for the Galaxy to grow, they have to play their kids.
So don't fear the doomsday. Embrace it! The Galaxy are well prepared.