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Three Offseason Questions for the Defending Champs: LA Galaxy

Today we wrap up our “Three Questions” series with the defending MLS champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy.  By any definition, they were the best team in MLS last season: they convincingly led the Supporters Shield’s race most of the season, looked like the best team in the playoffs, and won the MLS Cup.  They did it with glitz and glamour (the three designated players) as well as grit and determination (best defense in MLS, good midfield play).  In the end, they were possibly the most complete and dominant team in “modern” MLS history.

But the page on the calendar has turned and the team is facing a new set of challenges in 2012.  Even with the good news of David Beckham’s return, there have been some dark clouds this offseason that will push the team to see if it can repeat the success of 2011.  Let’s take a look at the three questions that will define the rest of this offseason for LA:

(Additionally, use the comments section to give some feedback on the Three Questions series.  Was it something you enjoyed?  Was it something you’d like to see repeated or emulated during the season?)

1. Will the midfield be as strong as it was last season?

Casual soccer fans know about “bend it like Beckham” but the Galaxy midfield in 2011 was a key to their ability to create offense seemingly out of nothing.  Whether it was Beckham’s storied free kicks or Juninho’s timely goals, the midfield came through in the clutch when it was needed.  That midfield will look different beginning next season.  Although there’s still a chance he may be loaned again to LA, Juninho has been recalled by Sao Paulo and will leave a gap in the “clutch goal scorer” category.  Miguel Lopez has also seen his loan end with LA and he has been called back to his home club of Quilmes.

The team has tried to replace Juninho with Marcelo Sarvas, but the 30 year old is arguably a step down offensively.  Having Beckham back does help cover this loss, but the team needs to take some steps to shore up a midfield that helps cover for a weaker forward position.

2. Can the defense do it again?

The loss of Omar Gonzalez hurts, badly, but in the “silver lining” category he will be able to return at some point for the Galaxy this season, it looks like (update: no silver lining, folks, he’s gone for the whole season).  However, the team may need to spend some money on a replacement, or focus their drafting on this position.  Bruce Arena also looked to keep key components of his defense by re-signing Sean Franklin, another defender who should be receiving more love from the USMNT.  The keeper position also lost a little depth with the expensive Donovan Ricketts moving to Montreal, but the back-up duo of Nick Noble and U-23 player Brian Perk look quality.

This defense was incredibly dominant last season, and even with Gonzalez it would have been a challenge to repeat their suffocating style.  With him gone for the first half of the season, seemingly, can the Galaxy approach the greatness they achieved last season a second year in a row?

3. How big of a role will the three designated players play this season?

Beckham is back, and he will be with the Galaxy a little longer.  But that will be contractually, and how much he is physically there is an important question for a team that already suffered a hit in midfield.  He will be playing in the Olympics and will miss time for that, as well as the usual jaunts across the pond.  With a longer schedule that adds two CONCACAF Champions League tournaments, how much will he contribute during the season?

Then there’s Landon Donovan, who is finally getting another chance to play in England.  He likes Everton, the team needs him, and we know his deal is only for a few months.  But can the best known American MLS player force a longer loan or transfer if he wants to stay?  My bet is yes.  Regardless, the Galaxy will be without his services for stretches this summer as he reports to the national team for friendlies and qualifying.

Robbie Keane looks to be enjoying his time in LA, but with a loan to Aston Villa and his Euro 2012 commitments, will his 31-year old legs be able to handle the travel and numerous competitions in which he will be competing?