In less than three weeks, the LA Galaxy will conclude their preseason preparations and open the 2013 MLS Regular Season on March 8 at StubHub Center against Real Salt Lake.
But as the Galaxy inch closer to the start of the season, LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano offers three things that we’ve learned after the first five matches of the preseason.
SAMUEL’S TRANSITION TO MLS GOING WELL AFTER SOLID PRESEASON START
No LA Galaxy signing this offseason was more heralded than Brazilian forward Samuel, and after five preseason games, the 22-year-old has offered a glimpse into what may be a stellar debut season in MLS.
Samuel’s hold-up play has been particularly effective as the 6-foot-1 forward has excelled at keeping possession in the attacking end while also laying passes into space for oncoming attackers. The striker showcased this skill with confidence in the 31st minute of Saturday’s victory over the San Jose Earthquakes when he knocked down a Landon Donovan cross, forcing a last-ditch clearance by a Quakes defender. The attempt fell perfectly for Marcelo Sarvas who smashed the ball into the back of the net. But it hasn’t been all about physicality for the burly forward who has shown flashes of technical flair like his tidy finish against FC Shirak, his brilliant dribbling display against San Jose and his ability to slice through opposing defenses which he showed against Pumas UNAM.
The work is far from complete for the Brazilian, however, as he has still not reached full fitness and has yet to play alongside Robbie Keane, who will slot into the starting XI once he has fully recovered from offseason Achilles surgery. With two preseason games remaining and Keane aiming to return to action, Samuel should get a chance to prove that he can form an effective partnership with the Galaxy captain.
GYASI ZARDES KEEPING HIS NAME IN THE CONVERSATION FOR A STARTING ROLE
With the signings of Rob Friend, Stefan Ishizaki and Samuel, it was thought that Gyasi Zardes would be relegated to a substitute’s role in 2014, but the 22-year-old has been keeping himself at the forefront of head coach Bruce Arena’s mind with several dazzling performances.
Ignited by tireless work on the training pitch with associate head coach Dave Sarachan, Zardes has appeared to be a more polished product heading into his sophomore season in MLS. Where once Zardes’ sprayed chances off frame, the striker’s accuracy has been much improved this preseason as he has repeatedly tested opposing goalkeepers with well-placed shots. Coupled with his blistering speed, Zardes’ improving precision helped him score a pair of fantastic goals against Shirak and San Jose.
Despite his fast start to the preseason, due to the Galaxy’s depth at forward and out wide, Zardes’ starting spot is by no means guaranteed. However, if the attacker can continue to impress in the club’s two remaining preseason games, he just may be in the Galaxy starting XI for the season opener against Real Salt Lake.
TRIALIST JAMES RILEY STATING HIS CASE FOR A ROSTER SPOT
Outside back depth has been a major concern for LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena heading into the preseason, but the Galaxy boss may have found his answer in veteran James Riley.
In the opening weeks of the preseason, Riley, Dan Gargan and Matheau Hall have battled it out for a roster spot, but with two starts in LA’s last two preseason matches, Riley may have put his stamp on the position. In those two appearances, the eternally industrious Riley has routinely snuffed out opposing scoring chances when tested while also assisting offensively. Against the Earthquakes, the 31-year-old was able to aid in the attack, even helping in the build-up to Marcelo Sarvas’ opening goal. Following Saturday’s victory in Fresno, Arena offered Riley a glowing recommendation, stating that the team’s back line could use a player with his experience and versatility.
Riley may have pulled out ahead at the moment, but with two preseason games left on the docket, the crafty Gargan and speedy Hall will have their opportunities to prove to Arena that they belong on the Galaxy’s opening day roster.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com