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Arena not fazed by DP 'curse'
by Ridge Mahoney, December 29th, 2008 9AM



Devout as they are to defense, it's no surprise that most soccer coaches stress the need to "build from the back" when assembling, or dismantling, a team.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has taken this step literally by signing Jamaican international goalie Donovan Ricketts, and while Caribbean keepers are hardly in heavy demand, Arena vehemently disputes another tenet of more recent vintage, one that questions if a team burdened by the salary hits of two Designated Players can flourish under the league's repressive salary cap.

"There's no reason in the world for me to believe that having Landon Donovan and David Beckham on your team is a handicap," says Arena. "However, we've disproved that notion and it's my job to turn that around in 2009."

Proponents of said theory pointed to New York, which floundered with both Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna on the payroll, though the Red Bulls still grappled with Reyna's salary after he retired in midseason, yet they made it to MLS Cup. Ergo, thereupon many critics swiveled their accusing digits 180 degrees to the other Americana mega-melting pot, Los Angeles, and its wayward aristocracy, the Galaxy.

Only Beckham is classified as a DP, but since The Grandfathered One, Donovan, takes as big a chunk of cap space as would a second DP, the math can be worked out more or less the same. (Donovan is also grandfathered for 2009.) The numbers look much better now then they did earlier this year, when the acquisition of Carlos Ruiz top-loaded its cap with $1 million for those three players. By dumping Ruiz off on Toronto, the Galaxy has cleared enough cap room to be competitive. (TFC just announced it was releasing Ruiz.)

Since only base salaries and guaranteed compensation, not salary-cap numbers, are released by the MLS Players' Union, and few details of how much allocation money is allotted by the league and changes hands between teams are publicized, only guesstimates can be made while assembling an 18-man roster that can fit under the cap.

The keepers, besides Ricketts, would seem to be Beckham, Donovan, defender Sean Franklin and forward Edson Buddle. They'll add up to about $950,000 against the cap, and with Ricketts' (undisclosed) salary added in, the cap hit runs into seven figures but just barely.

(The cap number for 2009, according to sources, has yet to be determined. It was either $2.18 million or $2.3 million in 2008, and in these tough times isn't likely to go up much, if at all.) But even using those numbers, if LA gets approximately $350,000 in allocation money for missing the playoffs, as is suspected, it can work the math.

Suppose defender Bobby Burling, who earned $17,700 (base salary) as a rookie in 2008, can be persuaded to change locker rooms at Home Depot Center and leave Chivas USA in a trade for a better deal, say in the range of $60,000. The Galaxy has already jettisoned Greg Vanney ($91,800) and by wiping defender Eduardo Dominguez ($192,000) off the cap produces a net gain of more than $200,000 just in the back line.

The Galaxy can thus find an experienced central defender, sign Franklin to a much better contract and move him to right back, and maybe find a better and cheaper option than Ante Jazic ($120,000) at left back. Chris Klein ($150,000) stays only if the other pieces fit and Becks keeps winging across the Atlantic to play for England.

There's wiggle room in midfield, certainly, with the 2008 numbers of Peter Vagenas ($144,000) and Alvaro Pires ($100k) sticking out grotesquely. Both are gone, and there are bargains available as possible replacements to be found around the league: Dax McCarty ($45,500), Stephen King ($17,700), Corey Ashe ($33,000), Roger Espinoza ($45,000), Pat Phelan ($33,000), and ex-Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Saragosa ($70,530), just to name a few, and a few is all that is needed.

Just by revamping the back line and midfield, the Galaxy can gain enough cap space to leave its forwards - Buddle, Donovan, Alan Gordon ($72,500), Ely Allen ($12,900) -- more or less intact. Academy graduate Tristan Bowen, a forward, would be a soft hit at $45,000, but he counts for zero as a Generation adidas player, so LA can certainly add a player here as well.

Arena has only two SuperDraft picks in the first two rounds (No. 3 and No. 18 overall) and two more in the fourth round. But with a hefty chunk of allocation money pending, the presence of two high-priced players won't be the insurmountable barrier some observers think it is.

"My one year in New York, I didn't have a pick in the first round," says Arena. "I picked Dane Richards and Sinisa Ubiparipovic and those guys worked out. I still like to believe we can get players in the third and fourth round who can help us.

"I don't think our shortcomings are attributable to the fact that, in terms of the salary cap, we have two Designated Players. That's not why we haven't been successful. We need to improve our roster, and we need to get the players who are here better, and we need to make the players here a better team.

"There's a lot of things we need to do that doesn't point a finger at the fact we have two designated players."

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