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Unknowns abound in Los Angeles
by Ridge Mahoney, February 14th, 2008 6:45AM
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[MLS TEAM PREVIEWS] Less than a week before it departs for the Pan-Pacific Championship in Hawaii, the Galaxy has nearly as many questions as players. And it has a lot of players.

Nearly three dozen have been working out at Home Depot Center under the tutelage of head coach Ruud Gullit. Landon Donovan returned to training Monday after playing for the U.S. in a 2-2 draw with Mexico a week ago, and David Beckham hasn't missed a minute.

President and general manager Alexi Lalas expects Beckham to assume a greater leadership role than he could last year, when injuries and absences limited him to just five league appearances.

"It's hard for a player to come into an environment and make an immediately positive impact when you're not able to do the most important part of the equation, and that is actually play," says Lalas. "It doesn't matter if it's David or anybody else.

"It will be nice for him to ramp up in a preseason and then get a much more consistent presence instead of just dropping in. You could be the most vocal person in the world with a great personality and be an incredible leader, but if you can't lead by example on the field, then you might as well coach."

Speaking of the coach, Gullit isn't yet addressing the issue of salary cap, over which Lalas admits the Galaxy is at present. All teams must be roster compliant (18 regular players, plus 10 developmental slots) and salary-cap compliant (about $2.2 million, supposedly) by March 1.

Los Angeles tried to move midfielder Peter Vagenas last year; it has shed the salaries of Chris Albright, who was traded to New England, goalkeeper Joe Cannon (to San Jose), and Cobi Jones (retired to become an assistant coach), but taking on the hefty cost ($425,000) of Carlos Ruiz and former Newcastle left back Celestine Babayaro (salary unknown) necessitates further moves. The team does have more than $500,000 in allocation money to play with, but still, the cap is squeezing tightly.

Ruiz has yet to train full-speed. His recovery from offseason knee surgery ran aground last week. In his zeal to get fit in time for a friendly against Argentina, he aggravated the knee and had to sit out the friendly, which Guatemala lost, 5-0. He doesn't participate fully in the Galaxy sessions, which have consisted mostly of fitness work.

"From our perspective, it was let's get a player in who's proven that he can score consistently in MLS," says Lalas of acquiring Ruiz for allocation money from FC Dallas. "and a player who is over the moon to be coming back to a place that he loves and a place, to be quite honest, where he belongs, and it was a move that's going to pay off for years to come."

The trade of Cannon puts the starter's shirt on Steve Cronin, who has played six league games in his three MLS seasons. U.S. coach Bob Bradley called him into training camp when Matt Pickens went on trial in England, so he, at least, and Donovan and Beckham, who trained with Arsenal throughout January, should be sharp when the team heads to Hawaii.

Former SMU star midfielder Jay Needham -- whose chose Puerto Rico (USL) over D.C. United last season -- is training with the Galaxy but the competition among young players to find spots is fierce. Right back Sean Franklin and defender Julian Valentin came out of the SuperDraft highly regarded, yet a back line of Ante Jazic/Mike Randolph/Babayaro, Abel Xavier/Troy Roberts/Ty Harden and Chris Klein won't be easy to crack.

Four trialists were released this week, and Gullit has about two more weeks to make a lot more cuts. From Hawaii the team heads to South Korea and China for matches in the first week of March.

MLS Preseason Previews
Jan. 28 -- Real Salt Lake
Jan. 29 -- D.C. United
Jan. 30 -- New England
Jan. 31 -- Columbus
Feb. 1 -- FC Dallas
Feb. 5 -- Chicago
Feb. 6 -- Kansas City
Feb. 7 -- Chivas USA
Feb. 8 -- New York
Feb. 11 -- Colorado
Feb. 12 -- Toronto FC
Feb. 13 -- Houston


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