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01/30/2014
 

CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy have a good sense of what failed them in 2013 -- inconsistency and a lack of diversity, for the most part -- and have begun preparations for the coming season by addressing their faults.


They've got a different look, thanks to four key attacking acquisitions, and believe the group head coach/general manager Bruce Arena and his staff have put together is better than the one that missed out on an MLS Cup “threepeat” last fall.


“You have to always come into a season at the start very positive, thinking that we have a good chance of winning the championship, because if you don't believe that, well, then there's no point of being here ...,” captain Robbie Keane said at StubHub Center during the club's first media availability of the year. “We say that [the changes have made us better] every year, don't we? But I actually, genuinely do [believe they have this year]. I think we look at the experienced players we've brought in, I think that will certainly help the group.”


Target forwards Rob Friend, a 6-foot-5 Canadian who spent 11 years in Europe, and Samuel, a 22-year-old Brazilian on loan from Fluminense, add bulk and experience up top, and former Chicago Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic, returning to MLS after two years in Sweden, adds another option behind the front pair.


And now they've added flank midfielder Stefan Ishizaki, a Swedish national team veteran that signed before camp began at the end of last week and was announced Thursday, when his work visa arrived.


“He's a very good passer. Very composed, experienced, gives us a little something different in the midfield,” Arena said. “He'll make plays that will amount to something. We often have a lot of players with a lot of energy, with good intentions, but nothing happens out of that play. I think he's a guy who can make that final pass.”


Ishizaki, who will compete with Robbie Rogers, Gyasi Zardes and possibly Landon Donovan for wide-midfield starting jobs, will enhance what Friend and Samuel bring to the frontline.


“We have Landon and we have Robbie [Keane], and they're great together,” said Ishizaki, 31, who has played in Sweden for AIK, on loan to Genoa in Italy, in Norway for Valerenga, and since 2006 for Swedish club IF Elfsborg. “Robbie drops down and provides Landon with good balls, and sometimes against certain teams you need a little different style of play, and then you be a little taller in front of goal, so that's probably why they brought in Samuel and Rob.


“Usually, I take set pieces with my old team, and I kind of have a good cross with my right foot, so maybe they'll look to use that as well.”


The ability to go direct will return to the Galaxy a tactic lost when David Beckham departed for France after the 2012 title. They've rarely used true wing play, and although Ishizaki isn't a pure winger, he offers better width on either side.


“Doesn't matter [which side I play on],” he said. “But I don't cross balls as well with my left foot. When I play on the left, I usually go a bit more to the inside and try to get shots off and get combinations with the strikers. But when I'm on the right, it's a little bit more like a crossing style of play, and trying to find strikers in behind the back four.”


The Galaxy were most effective in attack last year when Keane, an MLS MVP finalist who scored 16 goals with 11 assists in just 23 regular-season games, was teamed with Donovan. It's a dynamic duo, truly, but they're both small, mobile attackers -- they're very different players, but neither is a target man, and Zardes -- who has the size to be a target forward -- is more of a mobile, run-at-defenders striker, too, when he's stationed up front.


The depth behind Keane and Donovan was very young. Friend, 31, adds lots of experience -- including a stint in the Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach -- and will likely serve as a strong mentor for teen Jack McBean. Samuel has been through a bit, too.


Arena said bringing in experience was important.


“We had young players playing a lot of minutes last year,” he said. “I think that will be a good experience for them, but we still need more quality and more experience on the field at times.”


The Galaxy are a more balanced side, yes?


“Definitely,” said Rogers, who is fit and sharp for the preseason after injuries, illness and fitness battles derailed his first campaign with LA. “Especially with the addition of a few proper, big strikers, where they can get behind and hold balls. When we were down in Salt Lake [for the decisive Western Conference semifinal match, won by Real Salt Lake with an overtime goal], it was, like, who's going to win headers and how can we be direct. It was a little difficult to be direct.


“I know that's not really our style, but there's times in the game where you need to be very direct, and we really didn't have that option.”


Most of the key guys in midfield return, including central tandem Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, and there's considerable depth in central defense and in goal.


Sean Franklin's departure to D.C. United in the re-entry phase has left the left-back post with little depth. A.J. DeLaGarza, who was switched to from the middle to the left early last season, is the No. 1, but his understudies (Home Grown Player Oscar Sorto and natural midfielder Rafael Garcia) are very inexperienced. Potential depth could come from MLS veteran Dan Gargan or L.A. Blues standout Matt Hall, two of the club's three trialists (Fort Lauderdale Strikers goalkeeper Cody Laurendi is the third).


“I think a big part of the team this year is that we're going to have good depth and experienced players that can play different kinds of roles throughout the season ...,” Arena said. “We're hopeful our team is a little bit better and a little bit more consistent, because I thought last year if there was a weakness, it's that we were inconsistent.


“We were one of the top teams in the league in terms of scoring goals and, believe it or not, one of the top teams in defending, especially in the last half of the season. Yet I don't think the results were consistent, so I'm hopeful we have a little bit more quality and a little bit more experience this year that will allow us to perform more consistently.”



 
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