After completing two convincing road wins against Colorado and Seattle last week, the Los Angeles Galaxy have continued a simply jaw-dropping beginning of the 2010 season. Although the Galaxy are on the brink of losing Landon Donovan and (probably) Edson Buddle to the World Cup after Saturday’s game at home against Toronto, they have built themselves a lead in the Western Conference that they are unlikely to relinquish during the South African festivities.
Statistically, the Galaxy are in another world from the rest the league. After eight games, the Galaxy remain undefeated with 22 points out of a possible 24. They have scored a league-high 15 goals and have given up a league-low of 2 (!!). Edson Buddle has a league-leading 9 goals, none of which are from the spot. Landon Donovan has a league-leading 9 assists.
While Buddle’s play has gotten the acclaim and has resulted in a call-up to the US National team, and Donovan remains the offensive weapon for which teams have no solution, the Galaxy success cannot be laid to just two players. Several factors may not make the headlines, but have made a tremendous difference on the scoreboard.
Omar Gonzalez – No sophomore jinx here. Last year’s rookie of the year has barely put a foot wrong in 2010. I doubt there is a better defender in the air in MLS right now. Every ball that gets sent into the Galaxy box from distance goes right back out again. Two years ago the Galaxy were a horror show defending set pieces. With Gonzalez manning the box, there seems no way in now. He is too young and inexperienced for our current World Cup squad, but he should be playing in Europe in two years and could be in the starting XI in Brazil four years from now.
Chris Birchall and Juninho – Birchall, who had been widely known as the white, English guy on the Trinidad and Tobago National team, and Juninho, who is on loan from Sao Paulo in Brazil, have been the Galaxy’s steel in the middle of the field. Although Juninho speaks Portuguese and Birchall is fluent in Limey, their communication in the center of the pitch has been outstanding. They have been tough tacklers and have distributed the ball terrifically well. Their control of the middle has allowed Donovan to go wide and Buddle to go deep. They are two great Bruce Arena finds, speaking of which….
Bruce Arena has turned a shallow, young team into a deep, experienced machine. Two years ago, the Galaxy were the worst team in MLS. They seemed to be composed of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and a bunch of kids who were trying to figure out which parent brought the post-game snacks. Coach Ruud Gullit came to the US ignorant of the way MLS worked, and left only slight less so. The transformation under Arena has been dramatic. Operating under the same salary cap as everyone else and with no new DP slots to use, Arena has fashioned a team balanced with wily vets like Gregg Berhalter, Todd Dunivant and Eddie Lewis, young rising stars like Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and the increasingly impressive Michael Stephens, and good imports like Donovan Ricketts, Birchall, Juninho, and Leonardo. The Galaxy have a rare MLS asset – a deep enough team that most players are fighting for position.
Is the Best Yet to Come? The Galaxy are set to lose Donovan and Buddle until (fingers’ crossed) mid-July, and though the schedule is a bit lighter during the World Cup, they will almost certainly drop points. However, presuming that Donovan does not fly from South Africa straight to Merseyside, the Galaxy should have a blazing fall, especially if they are allowed to vacate the Beckham DP slot pick up a superstar like Raul. At that point, the Galaxy will really be something to see.
The way the Galaxy are playing, they can be something the league has not seen in some time, a dominant team. For a league that has thrived on parity, that is something new. However, with soccer-awareness likely to be at an all-time high this summer, having a little bit of dominance in the team with the nation’s best player is not a bad thing for the league. If the Red Bulls can add firepower and continue their improved start, there is nothing MLS would like to see more than a good Los Angeles versus New York storyline. The Galaxy fans and the MLS front office will be anxious for Bruce Arena and his team to keep this momentum going.