Editorial (January 25, 2018) – The LA Galaxy have had a very busy and productive off-season. They jettisoned nearly half the roster from 2017. Head Coach Sigi Schmid has brought in a completely new back line. They’ve got a new goalkeeper and veteran midfield depth. The Gyasi Zardes situation and void of a No. 9 striker have been resolved as well.
Off-Season Revival: Breaking Down the Recent LA Galaxy Signings And Moves
For those of you living under a rock, here are all the new players who have signed with the Galaxy since the end of the season: Norwegian center back Jorgen Skjelvik, Venezuelan outside back Rolf Feltscher, goalkeeper David Bingham, midfielders Perry Kitchen, Servando Carrasco, and Chris Pontius, forward Ola Kamara, defender Emrah Klimenta, and goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre.
The club also drafted Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Drew Skundrich, and Nate Schutlz. With that, let’s take a look at the Galaxy’s off-season moves and what they all mean for the club.
A Completely Revamped Back Line:
Despite the lack of scoring when he was hired, Sigi has been consistent that the Galaxy needed to stop leaking goals. The center back situation was a mess. The goalkeeping curfuffle was a self-created mess by previous management. Then there was the revolving door that was “so who wants to play right back this week, guys? Guys?”
As it stands, the Galaxy seem to have fixed all of that. They’ve brought in a proven MLS goalkeeper in David Bingham and didn’t have to spend too much money to do it. Bingham is coming from in-state rival San Jose Earthquakes and will be reunited with his former coach, Dominic Kinnear, who is an assistant under Schmid. Bingham should be motivated to prove himself and he’ll be in a healthier situation to do so.
Skjelvik and Feltscher weren’t on the MLS radar, but both have good potential. Skjelvik was one of the top defenders for Rosenborg BK, who won several trophies with Skjelvik at the club in the Eliteserien (formerly known as the Tippeligaen). It’s a consensus these days that Scandinavia isn’t at the level of MLS. Still, a great player there should be a good player in MLS.
Feltscher has started to work his way into the Venezuelan International Team after playing several years in Europe (he was born in Switzerland). He’s had a hard time getting minutes with his last two clubs. That said, an international who’s played in COMNEBOL World Cup Qualifying isn’t a bad signing. Given how poor the Galaxy were at right back, any stability and competency at this position would be an improvement.
The Galaxy did also bring back Ashley Cole. He was the one bright spot for the Galaxy defense last year. If he’s able to stay healthy at 37-years-old and/or if he’s not taking up his salary from last year ($300,000), this is a good move.
He and Daniel Steres should be the only starters from last year who remain, indicating a much improved defense. Dave Romney and some new signings could also challenge for time at that second center back spot.
Midfielders by the Dozen:
With the moves this week, the Galaxy now have eight players listed as midfielders on their roster. That is with Giovani dos Santos and Chris Pontius listed as forwards. Bradford Jamieson IV and Ariel Lassiter (who can both play on the wing) are also listed as forwards. That eight does not include 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick Drew Skundrich.
In any case, the Galaxy have a bunch of players who can play in the midfield. They’ve had veteran bench depth in Servando Carrasco, Baggio Husidic, and Pontius. The first two made less than $200,000 last year. Pontius made in excess of $431,000. All three are older and assuming they’re all making around or under $150,000, they are economical bench players and good locker room guys. Given the rumor mill didn’t indicate a lot of competition for Pontius, they probably didn’t overpay for him.
As I’ve previously written, Perry Kitchen is absolutely an upgrade at holding midfield for the Galaxy, including Joao Pedro. That said, they also gave up a good amount to get him, acquiring his rights from D.C. United and signing him to TAM contract. He’s an improvement over Pedro, but I’m not sure Kitchen will be worth the resources that were used to sign him.
My argument at the time was those resources could have been used to get a striker. Since then, they’ve signed Ola Kamara, which absolutely solves their striker problem. That said, one has to wonder what becomes of Pedro, who showed potential with everyone he played with last year not named Jermaine Jones. It will be harder to shop him, especially back to Europe if he isn’t playing regularly and playing well.
All that said, I fully expect Jonathan dos Santos (in his second year in MLS) and Kitchen (returning to MLS) to be one of the best central midfield No. 6 and No. 8 tandems in the league in 2018.
The wide spots are probably where the Galaxy have the most confidence. Romain Alessandrini was a godsend last season. Ema Boateng had a good year and Sebastian Lletget is on the mend. In 2016, Lletget was one of probably the most valuable midfielders (productive-to-salary) in the team and one of the best in the league. Rumors are Boateng could be on the move.
Regardless, Alessandrini and Lletget as wing men and beard buddies is a solid starting combination. Jamieson and Lassiter can come in off the bench and Pontius has usually been a wide midfielder in his career.
Depth and Diamonds in the Rough:
For the first time in years, the Galaxy were actually active in the MLS SuperDraft. They selected three players, including two Stanford University seniors who were part of an NCAA College Cup three-peat. Tomas Hilliard-Arce was one of the top center back prospects in the field. The Galaxy selected him, as well as Drew Skundrich and Akron defender Nathan Schultz.
The Galaxy have also signed (mostly) center back Emrah Klimenta who had been a mainstay at Sacramento Republic FC since their inception in the USL. Last week they added back up goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, who had several good years with North Carolina FC (previously known as the Carolina Railhawks) in the NASL.
It’s unclear how much playing time these guys will get. That said, Klimenta and Slyvestre have proven themselves in the lower division. If they were on LA Galaxy II last year, they’d have been two of the best players on the team. They should at the very least provide depth at two position where there was none last year. In terms of finding guys to fill out our match day roster on the cheap, theses are diamonds in the rough.
Other than Hilliard-Arce, the draft picks are unknowns. We’ll have to see if they can first make the team. They could spend most of the season with Los Dos. Given all the moves they made elsewhere, this isn’t a bad thing. They aren’t depending on them to contribute or fill holes. Hilliard-Arce could challenge for first team minutes if he impresses Sigi in camp compared to the other center backs.
The Striker the Galaxy Needed and a Departure:
While the Galaxy waited to do this last, they filled their biggest hole from 2017: a No. 9. In a huge trade (and a steal if you ask me), they sent $400,000 in TAM and Gyasi Zardes to Columbus Crew SC in exchange for striker Ola Kamara. There is a stipulation that if Kamara scores 12 goals or more this year, the Crew get an extra $100,000.
This is the biggest move of the off-season for the Galaxy. They got a proven MLS striker who wants to be there. And they got him for a reasonable price. Twitter was suggesting Kamara’s value in league was around $1 million. Let’s assume he scores the 12 goals and the Galaxy end up sending half a million in cash to Columbus. Zardes is not work half a million on the open market.
In this move, the Galaxy got a striker without having to break the bank, force themselves into moving a valuable asset, and finally found a resolution to the Zardes saga. Kamara will challenge opposing defenses on the run and in the air. Unlike last year, the Dos Santos brothers and Alessandrini have a focal point for their service who can convert the chances they create.
It should be said that the time Zardes spent at the club should be a fond memory. He was upstanding off the field and in the community. He worked hard on the field, even when on a down streak. Zardes had a fabulous 2014 season on the way to scoring in an MLS Cup victory. He was a good soldier and a good person, despite his downs and being put in several tough spots. Hopefully a change of scenery helps him regain his confidence and actually lock down a best position on the field.
With the addition of Kamara among other LA Galaxy signings, this on paper is a playoff team. For as bad as the Galaxy were in 2017, they’ve completely rebuilt the defense, added pieces in the midfield to complement the Dos Santos brothers, and brought in a striker. There will be a learning curve as a new group gets to known each other and their style of play. That could lead to a slow start. That said, the talent is there. The Galaxy will make the playoffs in 2018. Anything less is an abject failure.