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LA Galaxy 2020 MLS season preview

Can Chicharito help take Galaxy back to MLS elite?

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy-Javier Chicharito Hernandez Press Conference Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Galaxy kick off the 2020 MLS regular season Saturday at the Houston Dynamo. Ahead of their 25th season, let’s run the rule over the Galaxy for the new campaign.

How did they finish in 2019?

The Galaxy finished with a 16W-15L-3D record in regular season play last year, good for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and a return to the MLS playoffs. They won a playoff game, too, on the road over Minnesota United, but following that up with a clash against cross-town rival LAFC was a bridge too far, and they fell in the conference semifinal round.

What’s new in 2020? Biggest change from last year?

There’s a changing of the guard as the Galaxy superstar, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading to retirement league Serie A’s AC Milan this offseason and LA reinforcing by signing Chicharito. Time will tell if Chicharito can score at the prodigious rate in MLS that Zlatan did, but in terms of name recognition and marketing potential, the Mexican is one of the few players on the planet who may be a better fit than the Swede in Los Angeles. The hope is that Chicharito will fit with LA’s team better, too, as Zlatan had a propensity of scoring, yes, but the knock-on effect was that the rest of the team largely played badly around him. Was that a function of the roster, of Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s coaching, or of Zlatan’s ill fit for the team?

What did we learn last season about this team?

Bringing the Galaxy back to full prominence wasn’t a one-year project. To be fair, the club made that pretty clear last year, but any hopes that Zlatan could drag the team to titles practically single-handedly after proving he was healthy the year before died quickly. LA brought in upgrades to the roster all over the field and added Cristian Pavon to bring up-and-coming top talent to help the Galaxy bridge the gap between their “galactico” history and a shift in MLS that prizes better young talent, primarily from South America. But the team struggled mightily in defense — finishing with a -1 goal difference — and an attack that seldom looked as fluid as it ought to have, considering the pieces present, on paper.

What’s the one storyline you’ll be following?

Can the Galaxy return to the status of MLS contender this year? After enjoying nearly a decade of being the standard-bearer every single year in MLS, Bruce Arena’s departure still hasn’t fully been overcome, although there was progress last year, the first with Schelotto as manager and Dennis te Kloese as general manager. In addition to Chicharito, they will have Cristian Pavon, a potential MLS Best XI player, for a full year, plus Jonathan dos Santos, who has quietly settled in to be a terrific central midfielder, and hopefully a healthy Sebastian Lletget this year. Is that enough to put them over the line to be pushing for a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup this year? There’s potential but a lot of questions, especially in defense.

Who’s out?

  • F - Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  • M - Romain Alessandrini
  • F - Uriel Antuna
  • D - Diego Polenta

Who’s in?

  • F - Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez
  • M - Sacha Kljestan
  • M - Aleksandar Katai
  • D - Emiliano Insua

What’s the new jersey?

MLS: 2020 MLS Portraits USA TODAY Sports

The Galaxy have a new primary jersey in 2020, a white number with the trademark sash now a silver paintstroke element. The MLS standard of three large stripes going over the shoulder for this jersey run is also silver, while the font on the back of the jersey is blue.

Compared to most teams, LA’s jersey is pretty similar to what they’ve had in recent years and it isn’t a drastic break, and has been well received. Given Chicharito is wearing this, these are flying off the shelf and will likely be all year.

Who’s the coach?

Guillermo Barros Schelotto returns for a second season at the helm. As a manager, the 46-year-old Argentine has won two Argentina Primera league titles with Boca Juniors, a Copa Sudamericana with Lanús, and reached the Copa Libertadores final with Boca. As a player, Schelotto was a Boca legend, and also won an MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double and won MLS MVP with Columbus Crew SC in 2008.

Schelotto is expected to bring the Galaxy back to their status atop the MLS pile, and after a rocky first season that did show progress, more is certainly expected in year two. Last year, Schelotto and Te Kloese claimed they were hamstrung by the roster as constructed, and with a year under their belts, can they make another leap with this roster? That’s the question surrounding Schelotto.

Who is the player to watch on your team, and why?

We can go all Galaxy Brain (no pun intended) here, but the bottom line is that big things are expected of Chicharito and there have to be a few concerns whether or not he’ll be up to the challenge. The leading scorer all-time for the Mexican national team, Chicharito is 31, has not suffered any severe injuries, and doesn’t have as many miles on his legs as a lot of players, considering he’s been a bench option on an awful lot of teams over the years. Of course, that can be a concern — were all of those club managers right, he was best as a super sub, and not as the player to build an attack around? His experience at some of the world’s top clubs and for Mexico seems to indicate he’ll do fine, and he could very well be in the running for the MLS Golden Boot, but any newcomer has to have question marks around him until he takes the field, and that will be the case until we see Chicharito play in competitive games.

Projected ideal XI

It’s worth going over a couple spots, notably the ones with question marks. Right now, one or two of Giancarlo Gonzalez, Daniel Steres and Nick DePuy will line up at center back. The battle seems to be quite open, to be honest, with persistent rumors linking LA to Argentine defender Alan Franco, with him arriving if a deal is done perhaps in the next couple weeks. Needless to say, the position does not yet appear to be settled, given the options and rumors and Schelotto’s propensity to mix and match last year.

Questions also exist in midfield, given all the projected starters have injury issues or are getting up there in age, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Corona gets some real run. But if everyone is healthy, Kljestan-JdS-Lletget is the most dynamic midfield LA can use.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

It has to be the defense. If LA can reduce their goals conceded number — their mark of 59 last year was the most of all the teams that made the playoffs — they should not have to sweat out games, drop leads and sweat out their playoff berth as the end of the season approaches. It’s easy to aim to drastically improve, but really, if the Galaxy can get below 50 goals conceded, the effect will likely disperse through the whole lineup and boost their seed in the Western Conference come season’s end.

Expectations for 2020?

At absolute minimum, LA need to make the playoffs to keep the sharks from circling, better yet would be a hosting a home playoff game this year to show some progress.

Given the Galaxy have won the most MLS Cups in history, expectations are higher than merely making the playoffs, however. Over the years LA have prioritized MLS Cup over other competitions, probably a fair choice, but any trophies this year would be seen as successful. Now, can the Galaxy realistically contend for MLS Cup? Like any team, they need a combination of skill and luck. They aren’t the most balanced team in MLS, but if things break right, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them contending again in 2020.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!