By Ridge Mahoney
Five months after suffering a torn meniscus suffered colliding with an opposing player, Galaxy strikerEdson Buddle is starting to feel like his old self.
“It’s a process,” said after getting his third goal of the season a week ago Sunday in a 2-2 tie with San Jose. “I’ve had injuries that’ve kept me out for a while. The main thing for me was to stay positive through the whole thing and not get too down on myself. I knew there are going to be better knee-days than others.”
Buddle, who rejoined the Galaxy last winter after a frustrating stint in Germany, is hoping for good knee-days in the playoffs. Last Sunday he didn’t score as the Galaxy closed out the regular season by beating Seattle, 1-0, but another stat – minutes played – carried more relevance.
He managed 75 minutes before being replaced by Mike Magee, who got the winner seven minutes later. Coupled with his 90-minute performance against the Quakes, it gives him – and the Galaxy coaching staff – belief there will myriad options up front in the postseason.
“He adds such a particular dimension that guys like Robbie [Keane] and Landon [Donovan]don’t necessarily have, and that’s the ability to really bruise defenders and hold balls up,” says Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan of the burly (6-foot-1, 185-pounds) veteran of 11 MLS seasons. “He’s very strong and those kind of players, along with players like Robbie and Landon, can really be a good pairing and partnership.”
Buddle, 31, left for Germany after scoring 17 goals in 2010 for the Galaxy, which without him last season rolled to the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup titles. His return last January from German second division club Ingolstadt didn’t convert the stingy Galaxy into an offensive juggernaut, at least not right away.
“At the beginning of the year, when I was healthy and we were just starting out, it was a struggle for the team all around with new players coming in,” says Buddle, who has managed just 19 appearances (10 starts) because of the meniscus tear and other ailments. “[Marcelo] Sarvas and Robbie and myself were all new playing with each other. It’s a process and there was a little bit of frustration on both sides; Robbie likes to get the ball, I like to get the ball. We never got down on each other or anything. When the team started to get a rhythm we started to score goals. Then I got injured.”
A collision with another solidly built individual, Dynamo left back Corey Ashe, in a May 26 league match derailed Buddle's season severely. He didn't get back onto the field until late August after undergoing a meniscectomy on his right knee.
“There was a period of time not that long ago that I kind of felt this might just have been a lost year for Edson,” says Sarachan. “He just had one thing after another with him physically. He’d take one step forward, two steps back, and never got himself going. But to his credit, and [to] our training staff, he really pushed through the setbacks with his knee and a few other things. Better late than never. I’ve seen him over the last three and a half weeks really turn a corner
“Knowing Edson, you can see when he’s looking sharper and the physicality and the soccer’s coming together. I thought, ‘Here we go, this would be great timing to get him back.’”
After failing to put away a first-half breakaway when a through ball slipped him behind the Quakes’ back line, Buddle ran onto a Sean Franklin cross to powerfully head home the second-half equalizer. The goal increased his MLS take to 93 in a career that started with the Crew in 2001 and has taken him to New York and Toronto as well as L.A., which this season despite his spotty appearances has beefed up its attack.
Keane has scored 16 goals and tacked on nine assists. Donovan is among the league leaders in assists with 14 and is second on the team behind Keane with nine goals. Magee’s winner against the Sounders was his fifth goal of the season. The Galaxy scored 59 goals, second only to the Quakes amongst the 19 MLS teams.
Yet Sarachan welcomes another weapon, especially with a possible rough postseason run coming up. As a wild-card team, the Galaxy must play five games in 17 or18 days, depending on scheduling, to reach MLS Cup.
“I’ve always been a believer in that you can never have enough forwards and options up front,” says Sarachan, a tenacious forward during his own playing days. “With Magee and Landon and Robbie, now Edson and even [Jose] Villarreal for a stretch there, the young kid, we had a really diverse group. With Edson we’re a little deeper again. He’s playoff-tested and he’s been there, so it’s good timing, really.”
Before he left for Germany, Buddle endured the 2008 season during which Ruud Gullit was dismissed as head coach and replaced by Bruce Arena and 2009 season during which played only 19 regular-season games because of injuries and blanked in four games in 2009.
He’s looking forward to feeding off Keane’s sharp form, which goes beyond his finishing. A clever Keane layoff set up Magee to score against Seattle, and Buddle is eager to get in on the action. Against San Jose, Keane floated into the central channel 30 or so yards from goal to provide telling through balls.
“That’s something Robbie’s been doing throughout the year,” says Buddle. “He’s been dropping, getting the ball, and we know if we can find him early, he likes to combine with players and he can find you if you just make the run.”
Now that he’s fit and focused, those runs might again feature regularly in the Galaxy attack.