2010 LA Preview: Can the stars align in Los Angeles?

Donovan and Co. forge ahead -- without David Beckham

All eyes are on Landon Donovan in Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: 
Robert Mora/Getty

The Tweet and Lowdown:

The Galaxy enter 2010 without the low expectations they
enjoyed in 2009. Can L.A. take the next step and seal the deal in 2010?

Setting the Scene:

Bruce Arena certainly had a project on his hands when he
inherited a side that leaked a disastrous 62 goals in 2008 and had failed to
reach the playoffs in three previous years. And thanks to off-field dramas enveloping
David Beckham and Landon Donovan, many assumed it was business as usual for the
glitzy L.A. outfit. Some even hoped the league's marquee team would once again
embarrass itself, just like it had done the year before. But Arena made some
shrewd changes, most notably shoring up the defense by combing quality
(goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts), experience (Gregg Berhalter) and raw talent
(Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza).

The Galaxy made a slow start to the 2009 campaign, earning
just one win in their first 10 league games. But Arena's men weren't losing,
either -- and once Donovan & Co. began gelling offensively in June, they
had established themselves as a league powerhouse. The result? A conference
championship and a trip to the big dance. Bruce Arena's new-look Galaxy
finished the season a penalty shootout away from winning everything, and that
far exceeded expectations. However, L.A. won't have the luxury of low
expectations this year, and should probably fear what a rookie may call "a
sophomore slump" in 2010.

Key Changes:

Players
in:
Clint Mathis (Real Salt Lake), Alex (São Paulo FC), Juninho (São Paulo FC), Leonardo
(São Paulo FC), Michael Stephens (UCLA)

Players out: Stefani Miglioranzi (Philadelphia)

Star
Attraction: Landon Donovan



The Reigning MLS MVP isn’t only the club's marquee star, but the league's, too.
During his recent loan spell at Everton, the L.A. captain did more to raise the
profile of MLS than anyone else -- including Beckham.



He scores highlight-reel goals and dishes out clever assists, and in every
season since joining L.A. in 2005, the 28-year-old has tallied double figures in
one or both categories. He does, however, have the tendency to drift out of
games, and Galaxy fans will be curious to see whether his European jaunt has
his dulled his enthusiasm for the domestic game.

Unsung
hero: Donovan Ricketts



The Jamaican goalkeeper arrived last year virtually unknown in MLS, but in his
first season, he helped his defense post a decent 31 goals-against tally --
half of what the Galaxy conceded the previous year. His nine shutouts set a new
franchise record.



Ricketts, a 33-year-old former Jamaican national-teamer, was pipped by Chivas
USA's Zach Thornton for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors, which surprised
some. Sure, Ricketts’ stats put him outside the top five in some key rankings,
but when L.A.’s defense wasn't clicking -- which happened on a few occasions in
2009 -- he was there to mop up the pieces.

Ready for Primetime: Mike Magee

Magee chipped in with
six assists in 2009, which tied Donovan for team-high. But the Galaxy will
expect more goals from Magee in 2010 -- last year he only mustered two in 19
starts, though he did grab L.A.'s single goal in the 2009 MLS Cup final. The
forward has yet to tally double-figure scoring in his seven-year MLS career.



That's why 25-year-old Magee is poised for a breakout season -- simply put: He's
due. He's playing on a good side that will need goals, especially if Donovan is
unavailable. And if Magee can ever achieve his potential by posting his first
double-double season, this is the year to do it.

Storylines to Watch:  

The Galaxy will have to cope without at least one of their
high-profile players for much of the season, if not all of it. Beckham tore his
left Achilles tendon mid-March while playing for AC Milan, and though it’s
certain he’ll miss the World Cup, what’s unknown is whether the 34-year-old
will actually play for the Galaxy again. If he does return to full fitness
later in the year, will he find a way to reintegrate into a team that's more
than halfway through its season?

Landon Donovan's trip to South Africa will prove a bigger
loss for L.A. Assuming Bob Bradley's 23-man roster gathers three weeks prior to
the tournament and then progresses past the group stage, the Galaxy could be
without their star player for more than a month. And if Donovan has an
excellent tournament just as the European summer transfer window opens ...
well, who knows.

Arena, however, is the quintessential realist who builds
great teams; Galaxy fans can assume he won't put out a 2010 roster that relies
solely on individual talent.

What He Said:

"We expect a lot. Obviously we're missing a couple of
key guys right now, but we've got to live with the players we have, and I think
we still expect to make it to the playoffs and improve on last year."

--
Defender A.J. DeLaGarza

If Everything Goes Right:

If thing fall into place perfectly for Arena and the Galaxy,
they'll get a motivated Donovan back in March and a healthy Beckham in July. In
an ideal world, the pair will once again click on the field and combine for the
lion's share of the team's offensive output.

But even without the duo, this year's team is essentially
the same bunch of hardworking guys that finished the regular season as
championship favorites, and Arena will have his entire side ready to go in
March, no matter who's there. Chances are, though, it'll fall to the unsung
heroes -- the likes of Ricketts, Berhalter, Magee, Dema Kovalenko and Alan Gordon
-- to bring Arena the championship he probably deserves.