The Galaxy have made a habit of signing high profile talent, and when he arrived this summer, Steven Gerrard seemed to fit the pattern. He, like those who came before him, was going to fit in and help the team bring another MLS Cup back to the StubHub Center. But with the playoffs and the presumed run to another trophy set to begin, Gerrard isn’t driving the team forward. Instead, the Liverpool legend is dragging the Galaxy down.
Gerrard’s stay in LA started brilliantly, with a goal and an assist in his first MLS match. His fitness wasn’t great, but that would come along, Bruce Arena assured. He would get more mobile and comfortable with the team. Things would be great. There was no reason to doubt him.
There was every reason to trust Arena. The Galaxy haven’t just signed some of the biggest stars to come to MLS. They have also had the most success with those stars. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane all won multiple MLS Cups under Arena, who has shown that no manager can integrate big personalities and talents as well as he can.
Gerrard has bucked the trend, though. He’s not fitting in. He’s not playing a key role in a great team. While Arena promised an improved Gerrard as the season went on, that hasn’t been the case. The Galaxy have struggled in the season’s final month, but their trajectory still looks good compared to that of Gerrard.
The 35-year-old has looked every bit his age. He has been slow and, most terrifyingly, is always attempting to conserve energy. There isn’t an unnecessary run he won’t try to avoid, and there’s no chance to track back he won’t consider skipping. The game always looks like it is passing him by, as he too often becomes a carousel in the middle of the pitch.
Gerrard’s inability to keep up with the match has created a huge hole in the Galaxy team. Not only is he a step slow going forward and far from tidy in the final third — he was played in alone against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday and shot directly at the goalkeeper — but he’s ruined their ability to maintain shape and defend.
It’s impossible for a team with a four-man midfield to provide a suitable shield for its defense when one central midfielder is useless at stopping the counterattack or picking up runners into the box. That’s especially true on a team like the Galaxy, which is full of attacking talent who will almost always have both outside midfielders looking to get forward.