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

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.