By Ridge Mahoney
The acumen and decisiveness by which Bruce Arena conducts his business has manifested itself once again.
After making a big splash less than a year ago to bring striker Edson Buddle back from Germany, Arena and the Galaxy have cut him loose in a trade to Colorado, with a draft pick and allocation money going to L.A.
Question of relevance:
If the Galaxy had any doubts about Landon Donovan returning, would it have traded Buddle?
It obviously didn’t see Buddle as a bona fide starter, and probably believes that with draft picks and/or allocation money available it can build some depth at that position. The Galaxy also has midfield issues to resolve with the departure of David Beckham, uncertainty over loanee Juninho’s future (his contract with Sao Paulo is about to expire), and Mike Magee out of contract (but expected to re-sign).
Los Angeles could utilize Donovan in a midfield role, but that possibility of an empty slot up top didn’t encourage the Galaxy to keep Buddle, who was the odd man out once Donovan and Robbie Keane melded their talents into a formidable forward pairing.
Though he did offer some value as an aerial target – he nailed home a powerful header from a Sean Franklin cross in a 2-2 tie with the Quakes Oct. 21 – Buddle lacked cohesion with his attacking teammates much of the time. While the Galaxy coaches raved about the combination play conjured up by Keane, Donovan, Beckham, Juninho and Magee, the comments about Buddle were more measured.
“Hopefully with Edson getting more minutes with Robbie they’ll form a good partnership,” said assistant coach Dave Sarachan in late October after a few encouraging performances by Buddle. “The one partnership that’s been really effective is Landon and Robbie. They both are at a IQ level as forwards that they read each other. That didn’t take long. Other forwards and other partnerships, you know sometimes Robbie sees a play or two ahead and they’re still behind.”
Buddle couldn’t close that gap sufficiently. He played 19 regular-season games (10 starts) and registered three goals and one assist. He did start three of the six postseason games, but in 251 minutes of play registered only three shots and zero goals and assists as the Galaxy rolled to its second straight title, scoring 12 goals in six postseason contests.
News of the trade, to put it mildly, surprised him. “I thought it was a joke at first,” Buddle said to MLSsoccer.com Tuesday. “I wasn’t ready to leave LA. I was sad at first, but I’m real optimistic, so if that’s what it is, I go with it and make the most of any situation.”
After scoring that goal against San Jose, he had talked about adjusting to life with Keane and also coming back from a knee injury that required surgery in June. “We never got down on each other or anything,” he said of the team’s early-season struggles. “When the team started to get a rhythm we started to score goals. Then I got injured [against Houston May 26].
“It’s a process. 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.”
He missed about two months after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and the Rapids will be monitoring him closely during preseason to measure his fitness at age 31. He’s more mobile than Conor Casey, who was claimed by Philadelphia in the Re-Entry Draft, and could serve well as a frontline focal point in Coach Oscar Pareja’s 4-3-3 system.
But if he didn’t thrive on the service of Beckham, Donovan, Keane, Juninho, et al, in Los Angeles, can be produce for Colorado? Not many forwards have played 250 regular-season games and scored 93 goals as he’s done since starting his career with Columbus in 2001.
“I know my knee hasn’t been as strong as my left just because of the surgery,” said Buddle, who turns 32 in March and has scored 93 regular-season goals since joining MLS in 2001. “I really don’t notice [my right knee] when I’m running around, but if I do isolated exercises on my right knee, I can definitely notice a difference. It’s not something I want to walk around miserable and make everybody know that my knee isn’t 100 percent, but it’s a good time right now to get it strong so it doesn’t linger.
“I want to show that I can still score. I know once I’m healthy, I should be able to score goals if I just condition myself the right way and just do the little things that I’ve done in my past.”