Ashley Cole’s move to LA Galaxy has been roundly panned by journalists and fans of Major League Soccer. But several reasons stand out why this might prove to be a good one.
Through the years, Major League Soccer has emphasized the signing of high-profile attacking players. In fact, when Toronto FC tried to sign defender Olof Mellberg as a Designated Player, it is perceived that MLS frowned upon the potential signing, and Toronto FC pulled out of the deal.
Cole is one of the most decorated defensive players in England’s history. Winning 107 caps for his nation, Cole’s total is only exceeded by one defender, the legendary World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore, who made 108 appearances for the Three Lions.
Getting a player of Cole’s stature and experience for a non-DP salary is a coup for the LA Galaxy. Bruce Arena, who has won more MLS Cups than any other head coach in the league’s history, rarely makes mistakes in the transfer market. Given Cole’s history and that of Arena, no reason exists to believe this move will be any different, and at a bargain price it could end up being the steal of the offseason.
Many of the critiques of Cole have centered around his age (35) and his lack of playing time with Roma during the last season and a half. It is also worth noting that the previous year he did not feature much for Chelsea in the second half of the season but did start and play exceptionally well in the 2-0 win at Anfield that eventually denied Liverpool the title that season.
The LA Galaxy defense was sub-par at the business end of the 2015 MLS Campaign, and the team looked terribly unbalanced in its approach. High-profile attacking talent in Robbie Keane, Gio Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget and Steven Gerrard, Cole’s former England teammate, made the Galaxy an exciting side going forward last season, but at the back they were suspect, eventually being pulled apart at the end of the season by talented attacking teams such as Portland and Seattle.
No question, Cole will help defensively. Robbie Rogers, who was converted from being an attacking player in the past to a left back, still lacks the defensive instincts to be a reliably consistent performer at fullback. Chances are with Cole’s signing, Rogers will be moved forward back to left midfield, a position where he can make a more positive impact interacting with the Galaxy’s aforementioned attacking talent.
Throughout much of his career, Cole’s game was predicated on pace. When he played with Arsenal in the early part of his career, his manager, Arsene Wenger, said “He is a defender who simply loves to attack. Defends, because he has to defend and because it is part of his job. Everybody loves to play with [him] because as soon as you won the ball back, he was up there to attack.”
But toward the end of Cole’s time at Chelsea, he became much more defensively-minded, developing a keen sense of positioning and a tenacious ability to win the ball in one-on-one defensive postures. Earlier in his career, Cole had relied on pace to close down attacking players, but as he slowed down and pacier wingers became an even bigger presence in the England, Cole adjusted his game accordingly.
During the 2010-11 season, Cole was noticeably slower in his overlapping runs, but his defensive work and positioning sense were good enough to earn him Chelsea’s player of the year in a season the Blues finished second in the Premier League.
Cole has won the most FA Cups in history for a single player (seven). While that in many ways can be seen as the bi-product of being on very good teams, Cole played a hand in the success of every trophy Arsenal or Chelsea won during his time with both clubs. In joining the Galaxy, he becomes part of the most successful club in MLS history and will be playing for the league’s most successful coach in Arena.
The Galaxy have lacked leadership at the back and have had goalkeeper problems the last few years. Arena must think Cole can help solve some of these issue in terms of organization and leadership. The addition of Jeff Larentowicz also speaks to Arena’s concerns about leadership and organization defensively. The MLS veteran has been one of better defensive midfielders in the league over the past decade.
Arena has identified solutions to a clear problem the Galaxy had last season. Given his track record, we should expect Cole to be a useful signing for the club. He fills a need, has the experience and has won the faith of Bruce Arena. That’s good enough for me to endorse the move.
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