[MLS SPOTLIGHT]A year ago, it was the loss of a dependable striker, Edson Buddle, that greatly concerned Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena as he planned for the upcoming season.
There are more issues to be resolved as the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winner prepares for 2012, with a mid-January starting date -- the earliest in league history -- compressing a short offseason still further. The departures of Juninho and Donovan Ricketts and, most likely, David Beckham need to be incorporated, and a loan of Landon Donovan to Everton has generated much media attention without significantly troubling his head coach.
“I’m all for it if he wants to do it and he’s healthy,” said Arena during the week before Christmas. “He had a difficult season especially the last three or four months. He dealt with some injuries, wasn’t in a good rhythm, and started picking it up near the end. Now he actually feels like he’s rested and has something left in him. Hopefully that’s the case.”
During his loan spell with Everton at the start of 2010, Donovan scored two goals in 10 matches and helped the Toffees win six of those games. Since then, some fans of the club have conducted a running campaign to bring him back, and during preseason training last year Donovan expressed his appreciation and admiration for their support. On that occasion, he reluctantly declined an opportunity to rejoin Everton at the start of 2011.
“With the invention of Facebook and twitter, I got a very real sense of how much the Everton fans were affected by my time there, and vice versa,” he said at the time. “It’s pretty amazing to communicate with people immediately. When I was growing up, I thought about writing to someone like Magic Johnson or Wayne Gretzky and having them respond to it, and what that would mean to me. It’s easy these days to forget the impact you’re having on people.
“From both a personal and professional standpoint, it was a real important time in my life. It was a very difficult decision to make not to go back. In the end, I felt it was the right thing to do. I can only hope I get an opportunity to go back again.”
The opportunity has arisen and he’s taken it. He will arrive in England this week and be registered to play once the European transfer window opens Monday. Minor injuries and national-team duties limited him to playing 23 (21 starts) of the Galaxy’s 34 regular-season games, and those breaks give Arena confidence that Donovan can jump back into competitive play in lieu of a long preseason.
“This is a great opportunity for him to play with a great club, and a great opportunity for him to get really focused on 2012, 2013, and 2014, and be every bit the player he should be day-in and day-out,” said Arena. “This is the impetus that gets him going and shows that these next three years he’s prepared for his club and his national team.”
As to the possibility of injury, Arena replies, “He can get hit by a bus walking off the curb. Injuries are part of the game, part of life. We’re not looking at it that way. He can get injured in the preseason as well. That’s the negative way to look at it. It’s a great opportunity and I’m hopeful he takes full advantage.”
Last week, the Galaxy announced right back Sean Franklin and midfielder Bryan Jordan had signed new contracts, which brought the fans early Christmas cheer in the wake of Beckham’s liaisons with Paris St. Germain and the recall of Juninho from his loan deal with Sao Paulo. The Galaxy also exercised the option on Adam Cristman’s contract, and signed attacker Pat Noonan and goalkeeper Nick Noble after picking them in the Re-Entry Draft.
Noble will battle Brian Perk for time along with Josh Saunders, who took over for Ricketts, the injured starter, in late June and kept the position after the Jamaican recovered from a fractured arm. Saunders finished the regular season with a 0.93 goals-allowed average in 19 games along with eight shutouts, and in four playoff games he conceded just two goals.
“Josh did great, no question about it, and the challenge lies ahead for him: can he be a full-time goalkeeper in the league>” says Arena. “Next year will be his first test and it will be interesting to see how he does from start to finish. I’m confident he’ll do well and that he’s up to the task.”
The process he took on a year ago will be much the same, but this time, more than the names – such as a resurfacing rumor regarding Ronaldinho, who dallied with the Galaxy in August 2010 -- have changed.
“The biggest thing in 2011 was we were a little bit more complete in what we were trying to accomplish: winning the MLS Cup, and moving out of the Champions League group play,” Arena said. “I think it’s just been steady improvement from one year to the next. We just tried to replace the losses we had, but as a team that has stayed together should improve and we certainly did.”