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MLS 2011 Preview: LA Galaxy Appear To Be Going All In

Who do you expect to be in the starting XI at First Kick?

Bruce Arena likes his 4-4-2 and there are a few things that seem pretty set. Donovan Ricketts in goal, Todd Dunivant at left back, Omar Gonzalez at centerback and Sean Franklin at right back. You can also bet on Juninho in the center of the midfield and Juan Pablo Angel at striker. After that, it’s a toss up. David Beckham will start, but he could be in the center or on the right of the midfield and Chris Birchall could be in either spot as well. Paolo Cardozo has come on strong to battle for a midfield spot and Michael Stephens could play anywhere in the midfield. Landon Donovan is an obvious starter, but in the midfield or at striker? If he’s in the midfield then Chad Barrett gets the nod at striker. There are a lot of questions for the Galaxy and odds are they spend a good chunk of the season moving guys around to figure out what works best.

Which new player(s) will have biggest impact?

This one goes to the biggest name to join the Galaxy and the team’s new DP, Juan Pablo Angel. The Colombian may be 35 years old, but he hasn’t had any problems scoring in MLS even as he’s gotten older. Last season Angel scored 14 times to bring his total to 62 in 113 matches since moving to MLS. There isn’t another proven goal scorer on the LA roster unless the team goes with Donovan at striker so Angel will carry a heavy load and will need to be both healthy and sharp. Without many options up front, Angel will be counted upon to capitalize on the chances he gets and how he goes will likely be how the Galaxy attack goes.

Which player(s) loss will be felt the most?

The reason that Angel’s addition is so important for the Galaxy is because of the loss of Edson Buddle to Ingolstadt of Germany’s second division. In 2008 Buddle scored 15 times, but had an injury plagued 2009 season before scoring 17 times last season as the only real goal scorer on the Galaxy. Almost all of the Galaxy attack went through Buddle and he carried a big load for a team devoid of goal scorers. Whether Angel can fill the void left by Buddle and whether any of the other striker signings, Barrett and Adam Christman, can contribute at all will go a long ways to determining LA’s success in 2011.

At what point is this season considered success?

There’s only one thing the Galaxy are aiming at in 2011 and that’s the MLS Cup. LA is an old team who has traded away key pieces to the future to win now. With David Beckham in the last year of his contract, Landon Donovan looking at a move to Europe and Juan Pablo Angel up there in age, the Galaxy are going for it this season. They may not be the best team on paper and expecting a MLS Cup is a reach for even the best team, but LA has positioned themselves to go after one thing and one thing only after losing in the 2009 MLS Cup on penalty kicks and in the Western Conference Finals last year after winning the Supporters' Shield.

Whose performance do you think will be most indicative of the season as a whole?

Whoever is playing central midfield next to Juninho. As the season went on last year, Juninho had next to zero support in the center of the midfield and against good teams that was exposed. If another team was strong in the midfield Juninho had to be fantastic or the Galaxy would be dominated in the center of the park. LA has been playing a bunch of different players in the central midfield spot next to Juninho in the preseason and will keep trying different players even once the season starts, but whoever is there needs to hold his own or the Galaxy will be beaten by good teams like they were at the tail end of last season.

Do the Galaxy have the pace to compete?

One of the problems with being older is you usually lack pace and the Galaxy have a lot of players who weren’t overly fast before they got old. Beckham was never a speed burner and neither was Dunivant. Angel doesn’t have eye popping speed and Gonzalez’s biggest issue as a centerback is his lack of pace. There are only two players in contention to start for LA that can possibly be considered speedy and that’s Franklin and Donovan. The Galaxy can easily be outrun so how do they counter that? It might not be possible.

Does age matter?

LA may not be as old as some like to joke they are, but they’re hardly the youngest of teams. Two of their most important attacking players, Angel and Beckham, are 35. Their left back, Dunivant, is 30. A player who will get time at centerback, Gregg Berhalter, is 37. Jovan Kirovski gets time off the bench for the team and is 34, while Frankie Hejduk is 36. Can a team who will depend on so many older players, at least for stretches, withstand the tolls of a long season and a postseason plus some CONCACAF Champions League matches and the U.S. Open Cup?

- Report By Ryan Rosenblatt of SB Nation/Soccer