Reports from afar that Ashley Cole is close to signing with the LA Galaxy would once have been dismissed as more Euro-generated garbage littering the outer edges of silly season. After all, the Galaxy once graded out at “pretty doggone reliable” on player moves. But more and more, we seem to be asking: Remember when the LA Galaxy made good personnel choices?
Nothing is certain on this, but none other than Galaxy manager Bruce Arena himself has offered a tepid confirmation on reports of the 35-year-old former England international signing up for MLS duty.
Ooof! …. Ashley Cole? Whose idea is that?
Cole was a bust at Roma, and he hasn’t played a competitive match since March. Officials in Rome were so unimpressed with the one-time standard bearer at left back for England that they terminated his contract, allowing Cole to go where he pleased, no transfer fee requested. Maybe they gave him some nice beach towels as a parting gift.
He was quite thoughtlessly unkind in previous remarks about professional soccer in our land. Wait until the man takes his first flight from Southern California into Orlando, crossing three time zones to swim through 90 minutes of relentless Florida humidity; we’ll see if that feels like “sitting on the beach.” Oh, and once he gets there, he can deal with Kaka and a team on the rise, one that fights hard even in defeat. That ain’t no day at the beach.
Or wait until he gets his first dose of Texas summer heat in Dallas or Houston. Best bet on the board for that night: that Cole says “enough!” and retires from soccer at halftime.
Again, nothing is certain, but this fits an increasingly alarming narrative. Well, “alarming” if you’re a denizen of the formerly placid and stable Bruce Arena Valley. For the set that loves to hate the big money men of the StubHub Center, levels of glee and mirth are rising.
If this were just Cole, it would be one thing. We could write it off as a mistake, a hiccup that shouldn’t have happened, or a forgivable flub from a group of deciders who have probably earned a mulligan. Those three MLS Cups in four years (2011, 2012, 2014) buys that.
But it’s not just one. This is the latest in a series of personnel choices that are debatable, at very least. Individually, most of them rate more “misdemeanor” than “felony.” But when they start stacking up, that “stacking up” begins to look like the bigger story.
In early 2015, we learned that Steven Gerrard was en route to the StubHub Center. Of course, this was a highly diminished version of Gerrard. To put it in Hollywood terms, this was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the fifth Terminator flick, a watered down a version of the big fellow’s earlier Terminator-ness.
Beyond Gerrard’s declining performance, there was reason to wonder if the longtime Liverpool man’s heart could really beat for any new club? Sure enough, come playoff time, the shouts to bench Gerrard were growing in volume as LA slid off the playoff road right away.
Around the time Gerrard started underwhelming everyone in LA came the goalkeeping debacle. Perhaps the badly timed and surprising departure of trusty starter Jaime Penedo was more on the Panamaian back stopper; perhaps the Galaxy was correct to hold the line on inflated salary demands. So, fair enough. But they couldn’t do better than Donovan Ricketts as a replacement? The guy was always overrated, was habitually a step out of position, and communication with the back line was never a strong point. Sure enough, his puny playoff performance against Seattle went a long way to securing that aforementioned early departure. Dan Kennedy has now been taken aboard, and that choice looks solid enough, at least.
But before anyone could get excited about renewed roster stability, out sprang word of two high profile exits. Longtime back line anchor Omar Gonzalez and longtime midfield stabilizer arm Juninho are off to Liga MX. Gonzalez may have dipped slightly in performance in 2015, but you’d still be pressed to name more than five MLS center backs you’d prefer over him. And Juninho … well, he’s been captain of the All-Underrated team for years. The man did Yeoman’s work in trying to cover for Gerrard’s dilly-dally in midfield late last year. Maybe he just didn’t fancy the prospect of another year of that mess. Either way, the Galaxy have to replace him now. And Cole isn’t the answer, obviously.
Heck, Cole isn’t even the answer at left back. In fact, at left back, Cole is the proverbial “answer looking for a question.” Somewhere, Robbie Rogers is nodding in grim agreement.
Rogers was making a case as Major League Soccer’s top left back by season’s end in 2015. He played left and right sided winger in his Columbus days, so perhaps he can switch sides at outside back. Still, the Galaxy need a center back a heckuva lot more than another outside back. So, yeah … Cole. An older, slower Cole who probably wants too much money but has no idea what he’s getting into.
Makes. No. Sense.
By the way, some of the social media consternation on this one is in the form of “MLS is loco to want a guy who has literally made a joke of the league.” Well, you cannot hang this around the MLS neck. Generally speaking, league HQ in New York doesn’t dictate club policy on signings. If they did, they would have saved NYCFC from their own goofball decisions last summer. So, if the Galaxy want to sign a washed up Brit, one who certainly won’t move any needles on attendance, one who makes no sense from a roster strategy standpoint, well, they are free to do so.
In the Tim Leiweke days in charge, the Galaxy signed a couple of older Brits who made perfect sense in performance and in putting butts in seats: David Beckham and Robbie Keane. Meanwhile, Arena was drafting smart (Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Gyasi Zardes, etc.), adding mid-level foreigners prudently (Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, etc.) and trading wisely, even when it didn’t make sense to the rest of us (Rogers for Mike Magee). He was an MLS roster zen master.
Are those days over? Or does that wily old Arena, easily the dean of all American coaches, still have a few gadget plays left to fool the defense?
Perhaps. But still … Ashley Cole? For real?
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