What is Los Angeles planning now?

The LA Galaxy always try to stay ahead of the curve. Or at least that’s how it seems. Los Angeles continually makes to biggest signings in MLS and without a doubt will be one of the top teams in the league. From Landon Donovan to David Beckham to Giovani Dos Santos, LA has landed star after star after star.

 
JuninhoTo stay ahead though, you need to make some radical moves sometimes. LA certainly did that this past week as it moved Omar Gonzales and Juninho to Liga MX for a boatload of cash and tons of salary space. Those two had the highest salaries on the team for players that weren’t under the Designated Player tag. The Galaxy also let Donovan Ricketts and Mike Vayrynen leave the team opening up a $2 million salary hole for the winningest franchise in MLS history to fill.

Omar GonzalezThat should read as bad news for the rest of the league. LA has the unique ability of attracting big names to come and this already star-studded team is clearly looking to get better. This season was viewed a major disappointment as the squad failed to even make it to the Conference Finals.

Now the rest of the league has to be wondering, what will the Galaxy do next? Well for starters, they are linked to former English International Ashley Cole. The 35-year old is without a contract at the moment so LA would not need to spend any of their transfer budget to bring him in. Outside of that, no one is really sure what to expect.

Looking at the current Galaxy roster, they need defensive help. Only two playoff teams allowed more goals than LA did last season. Bruce Arena is going to want to find someone to replace Ricketts at keeper and you can bet that it will be a top goalkeeping option by MLS standards. With Gonzales on the move too, you would expect Los Angeles to fill the void with a young central defender. If LA looks for a homegrown player at that spot look for names like Matt Miazga, John Brooks and Matt Hedges to crop up.

With Juninho out of the picture in Los Angeles and Vayrynen gone as well, the midfield is going to need some work. Finding someone to consistently start alongside Gerrard. LA did a lot of mixing and matching in their midfield last season, but down the stretch, you could just about count on Gerrard and Juninho starting.

Whoever LA brings in to replace Juninho will have a huge role to fill. The Brazilian started more games than anyone else last year for the Galaxy. Right behind him was Gonzales. They two were the center pieces of Arena’s starting eleven just about every week. With both of them gone, you can expect to see a very different style Galaxy team shaping up during the next two to three months.

Los Angeles GalaxySometimes, trying to fix was isn’t broken can be a major problem. However, I don’t think that is the case here. Los Angeles is looking to turn the page on their storied history and start a new chapter. A lot of the key players from that 2014 MLS Final victory are gone. Five of the Galaxy’s starting eleven in that championship game no longer don an LA uniform. The strikers have remained the same but everything has experienced a major shake up. LA is gearing up for another title run but also another shot at creating a dynasty. The Galaxy won titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014. LA is not looking to snag just one more title, they are preparing to dominant the league for a few years to come.

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MLS playoff hopefuls after the first fortnight of the season

I will admit it. I was completely wrong about the start to the MLS season. I truly believed that MLS and its players would be unable to find a level ground for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Turns out, the two sides were able to come up with a new agreement, which meant that the season would start on schedule. Good thing they did too because the last two weeks have been truly exciting. The parity in the MLS is incredible as well, with only one team having won each of its first games. With two weeks down, it’s time to take a look at who the playoff teams at the end of this year will be.

Eastern Conference:

Number 6: New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were a goal away from pushing into the MLS Final. However, without Tierry Henry, it is unlikely New York will be as high up in the standings. With two different Designated Player positions yet to be filled, the Red Bulls will be candidates to land a game changing player to make a big push for the playoffs. It worked for New England last year with Jermaine Jones.

Number 5: New York City FC
Another New York team clocks in at five. NYCFC actually sits atop the Eastern Conference at the moment, but that likely won’t last. David Villa proved last week that he can be a force and Ned Grabavoy looked strong in the midfield. Bringing in Frank Lampard midway through the season will provide a nice boost NYC will need to stay afloat for the postseason hunt.

Number 4: New England Revolution
The defending Eastern Conference champions look a bit rattled right now. Through two games, they have failed to register a point, outscored five goals to nil. However, the losses came against Seattle and NYC, both of whom will be in the postseason. New England needs to make some changes, but with time to right the ship, they should be fine.

Number 3: Orlando City SC
Sitting just behind New York City currently is the other fresh face to the MLS. With four point in their first two matches and a group of talented, promising players, Orlando has the assets needed to finish in the top three in the East. Ricardo Kaká is their leader and when he plays well, this is a tough club to beat. Defense will carry this club as far as they go.

Number 2: DC United
DC will once again find themselves near the top of the East. Bill Hamid is tough to beat in between the posts and more often than not, DC can find the offense needed to get a win. United allowed the fewest goals last tied with LA. Once again, DC will find a way to win low scoring games on their way to a top playoff seed.

Number 1: Columbus Crew
With Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Ethan Findlay running the show in Ohio, the Crew will be a tough outfit to beat. Those three have Columbus in a good spot already to begin the season sitting third after just two matches. If the Crew’s defensive performance steps up even marginally this year compared to last, this team will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

Western Conference:

Number 6: Houston Dynamo
Landing Cubo Torres in the offseason was a great move for the Dynamo. For a team that struggled to score and really got beat badly on a regular basis, getting a top goal scorer was a top priority. Their victory over Columbus shows that this team is ready to turn the corner and become a threat in the postseason.

Number 5: Sporting KC
Despite sitting last right now in the West, I think Kansas City will find a way into the postseason. It will be close but with Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer running the show, this team has enough talent to reach the playoffs. Predicated on defense, this will be a tough team to out over the course of the season. Their loss this year came at Dallas, which is more than acceptable given how good Dallas is.

Number 4: Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake returns to the playoffs in 2015. Here is yet another team that wins with its defense, allowing the third fewest goals in MLS just a season ago. Kyle Beckerman anchor this group and with Nick Rimando in between the posts, this team is tough to score on. If the collection of strikers for RSL can muster up some more goals this year, they could finish even higher.

Number 3: FC Dallas
Currently sitting as the king of the hill in the West and this no fluke. The two wins come against San Jose and Sporting KC, which gives them some credibility. Dallas won’t remain on top come seasons end with the two powers who control the West playing as well as they do but they will be a title contender come the fall.

Number 2: Los Angeles Galaxy
This is where LA finished its 2014 campaign and then went on to win the MLS Cup. I think they won’t mind a repeat. With Landon Donovan gone and Steven Gerrard not set to join the club until almost July, look for the Galaxy to slip a little bit from their 2014 form. This team though still outscored opponents by 32 goals last season. I don’t think they will be that dominate this year but they will make another playoff appearance as a top seed.

Number 1: Seattle Sounders FC
Once again, Seattle will finish on top in the West. After winning the Supporters Shield last year and qualifying for the playoffs every year in its existence, Seattle desperately wants a title. Making the postseason is no longer enough. The Sounders will certainly get their once again, but it remains to be seen if they can actually make the jump into the MLS Final, something this squad has still yet to do.

Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.

LA does it again

There were all sorts of questions floating around the Galaxy at the end of this season. Landon Donovan was retiring, Robbie Keane was rumored to be leaving and Los Angeles expected to lose players in the expansion draft. This team might have just won the MLS Cup, but as soon as last year ends, a new one begins. For the front office, there is no offseason. Earlier today, the front office for LA got to work as it was announced Liverpool captain Steven Gerard announced his intentions to join the Galaxy following the end of the Premier League season. Just when it seemed like the Galaxy would be running out of star power, LA managed to land another great towards the end of his career who can still contribute. Let’s take a look at what Gerrard brings to this Galaxy squad.

Gerrard was a member of Liverpool for each of the last 16 years. The Premier League squad brought him through its youth academy eventually signing him in 1998. Gerrard has made 695 appearances for the Reds and scored 180 goals in all competitions. Gerrard brings a fierce competitor and leader to an LA team that will be missing that with Donovan’s absence. His 180 goals rank number one in Liverpool’s 122-year history. His goals per appearance ratio is not anything spectacular at 0.23 but he is truly a once in a generation player. He ranks as the second best scoring midfielder in EPL history only behind Frank Lampard.

Gerrard will mostly emulate Donovan though in how he orchestrates the offensive attack. Gerrard ranks second in Premier League history for assists with 100. He is crafty and while his legs have begun to lose some of that spring he had as a younger man, he will find ways to mentally beat his opponents. Gerrard is not the same player as Donovan but without a doubt, he fills a similar role that allows LA to maintain close to the same attack style it employed this season. Gerrard will most assuredly find himself setting up Keane and Gyasi Zardes on multiple occasions.

This move will mark yet another former international superstar to come to MLS following the prime of his career in a European league. While it is certainly exciting, it still underlines the continual problem the MLS has with landing big stars before the decline in their career begins. The movement started with Beckham back in the early 2000s and has rapidly accelerated this year with Kaka, Frank Lampard and David Villa all set to join MLS this season. Now Gerrard will be added to the mix.

It should continue to drum up interest in the MLS though stateside though. That has been one of the league’s greatest weaknesses. It has been unable to really turn itself into a major North American sport due to how enamored the U.S. is with football, hockey, basketball and baseball. However, if these players can boost the popularity enough (after all, sports fans love to watch big name athletes compete) to where the league finds themselves capable of generating more money, we could finally start to see some of these players come over to the US before their career seems all but over. It could only be a matter of time. Gerrard is just another piece in this jumbled up puzzle for the MLS. He should be fun to watch in Los Angeles though once he arrives in June. If he resembles anything close to the Steven Gerrard Liverpool fans have watched play for so long, then LA might be in line to make another run at the cup.

Fitting end for a LeganD

The confetti had all rained down. They had accepted their prize. They broke out bottles of champagne and began setting them off in celebration. They crowded around one man clutching the massive trophy. His icon number 10 shirt wet with champagne as he hoisted the cup in triumph while his teammates cheered, “One more year! One more year!”

This was the scene in the LA Galaxy locker room following their MLS Cup victory over the New England Revolution. The Galaxy had just won their MLS record fifth title and the man holding the trophy was US soccer icon Landon Donovan. The 32 year old had just walked off the field for the final time in his professional career. Arguably the most decorated MLS player of the league’s 19 year history had just wrapped a campaign full of anguish and disappointment but ultimately marked by pure joy with this final development. Donovan’s final MLS season did not go exactly as he had always dreamed but in the end he walked off the field the way he desperately wanted: a champion.

The disappointment I refer to actually has nothing to do with MLS season and all to do with Jürgen Klinnsman’s decision to drop Donovan from the US World Cup roster headed to Brazil. That was all the US captain had been working towards, a chance to take center stage one last time on the world stage and show everyone that he was one of the best to ever do it. Instead, Donovan was left to sit at home and wonder what could have been. Particularly when US striker Jozy Altidore went down with an injury, Donovan must ponder his potential role on that team.

All of that aside, Donovan came back and played with a vengeance in the second half of the MLS season. Records fell around the famous attacker and when the dust settles from this championship run, Donovan can look back at his accolades knowing he truly was the best. He became the MLS all-time goal scorer and the league’s all-time assist leader. He scored his league record 41st game-winning goal and tied the MLS mark for game-winning assists. He demonstrated his longevity by finishing his career with the third most minutes logged. But above all, he showed his knack for getting it done when it mattered. This last title of Donovan’s career made him the player with the most cup wins ever.

Donovan’s leave is a saddening one for American soccer fans. It means we won’t see the iconic penalty kick run up or the unmatched passion we have been spoiled to see throughout Donovan’s illustrious domestic career. The MLS will be missing some of its most recognizable faces next year with the loss of Donovan and Thierry Henry. But the league will see the influx of international players like Kaka, Frank Lampard and David Villa. The league will always have its superstars, but there will truly only be one LeganD remembered as being the best to roam the US turf. So farewell LD, thanks for all of the great moments this nation has been so fortunate to share with you over this exhilarating ride. You will be missed.