Winning the MLS Cup -- or any other silverware -- just got a lot harder for every team not named the LA Galaxy. At least that's how it seems after a week that has seen them add more talent than most MLS teams have added all offseason.
First it was news that Edson Buddle was returning to MLS, where the Galaxy held his MLS rights. Despite re-signing the likes of David Beckham -- and even giving him a reported raise -- and already being reasonably set at forward, the Galaxy figured out a way to find room for Buddle on their roster. On Tuesday, they got some more good news when it turned out that Juninho, who was thought lost to Sao Paolo, would actually be returning on another loan spell. It was also officially announced that Leonardo, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, had moved to the team permanently on a free transfer. Leonardo is now expected to largely fill the hole created by Omar Gonzalez's knee injury. It's all a rather dramatic turn of events from how it was looking as recently as six weeks ago.
Even before this trio of acquisitions, the Galaxy were considered to be the top team in MLS. They were, after all, coming off a double-winning season in which they accumulated more points than all but one team in MLS history. Heading into 2012, they were at least set to have Robbie Keane for the bulk of the campaign -- he made just four regular-season appearances last year -- and had picked up Marclo Sarvas to fill Juninho's role.
With Juninho and Buddle on board, the Galaxy may have the most talented attacking core in MLS history. In Keane and Buddle, they have a pair of forwards both capable of scoring 15-20 goals. In Beckham, they have a midfielder capable of registering just as many assists. In Landon Donovan, a player who has almost been overlooked this offseason, they have someone who has averaged 12.5 goals and 9.0 assists per year over the past nine seasons. If those players simply perform at the low end of expectations, they will likely account for around 45 goals and 20 assists. To put that in perspective, just six teams scored more goals than that all of 2011.
A conservative estimate suggests the Galaxy can expect to get about 10 more goals out of those four positions this year than they did in 2011.
Really, the only question about this team is on defense. Specifically, can their defense overcome the loss of Gonzalez, even if just enough to not negate their expected improvement on offense? Frankly, it's a question many teams would like to ask. It's also one that is extremely hard to answer authoritatively.
Since joining the Galaxy in 2009, Gonzalez has missed a grand total of seven MLS games. It's a ridiculously small sample size to draw conclusions from, but the limited information does suggest missing Gonzalez is significant.
In the games Gonzalez has missed, the Galaxy have surrendered 12 goals or an average of 1.7 goals per game. In the 87 games in which he's played, the Galaxy have allowed just 73 goals or an average of .84 per game. Put another way, in this extremely small sample size, the Galaxy allowed roughly twice as many goals per game without Gonzalez as they have with him.
Using a broader image suggests the loss might not be quite so significant. For one, with or without Gonzalez, the Galaxy have arguably the two best fullbacks in the league. Sean Franklin is clearly the class of right backs and Todd Dunivant is, at the very least, in the conversation about best left backs. Holding down centerback will likely be AJ DeLaGarza and Leonardo. DeLaGarza has proven to be a capable, if somewhat undersized, centerback, while Leonardo has shown some quality glimpses during his 17 appearances over the previous two years. How well the 23-year-old is able to recover from his own knee surgery, as well as the drastically increased playing time, will likely determine how well the Galaxy defense weathers Gonzalez's loss.
The only other x-factor is the play of goalkeeper Josh Saunders. As good as the soon-to-be 31-year-old was during his 19 appearances last year, he's still a relatively unproven player. Prior to 2011, Saunders had made just eight starts and was firmly entrenched behind Donovan Ricketts on the depth chart. A standout season -- as well as a much more cap-friendly price tag -- made Ricketts expendable, though, and Saunders now enters the season as the No. 1 goalkeeper for the first time in his eight MLS seasons.
These questions surrounding the Galaxy are, admittedly, pretty minor when compared to those of the other would-be MLS contenders in any of the league's cup competitions. If last year's slogan was "MLS Cup or Bust," this year's should probably be "Treble or Trouble."