CARSON, Calif. – As proud as teams are to add another star to the top of their badge, there can be a mental burden that comes with the scudetto patch worn by the previous season’s MLS Cup champions.
In 2012 the Galaxy learned all about the difficulties of following up a championship season, carrying over a busy offseason into a sluggish regular season start that head coach Bruce Arena called “too rushed” and “all over the place.”
“Every day since the end of 2011 MLS Cup we were celebrating, we were setting engagements and we were fully occupied with everyone being aware of the fact that we won the MLS Cup in 2011 and I think it impacted us on the field and off the field,” Arena said. “I think it’s a great experience for us because I’m hopeful that this year we pat ourselves on the back for it and get on with the work in 2013.”
After recovering from the sluggish start to win a second consecutive MLS Cup, the club is focused on providing better closure to this title than there was a year ago.
On Wednesday, Arena spoke with the local media on a conference call to wrap up the 2012 season and discuss the construction of the team moving ahead into 2013.
In hopes of retaining as much of the team’s core and depth as possible, Arena said that the club had made offers to nearly all of its out of contract players including midfielder Mike Magee and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, both of whom he said the team was already in discussion with.
The three players that Arena could already say would not be back with the team were midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson, forward Chad Barrett and, of course, midfielder David Beckham. Wilhelmsson played in nine games for LA after joining the club late in the season. He had his lone Galaxy goal in his debut and notched an assist in the playoffs.
“He has other options that he wants to look at,” Arena said.
Barrett has been away on a loan in Norway since late in the summer.
With the departure of Beckham, the Galaxy have an opening in one of their Designated Player salary slots. While plenty of names have been discussed, Arena said that there is “no urgency right now to have to run out and replace David’s slot.”
Asked whether the team could afford a player of the stature and value that had been rumored Arena said, “We can afford whatever Tim Leiweke and Phil Anschutz say we can afford. Those kinds of decisions really go up the ladder. Each situation as it comes along our way is evaluated.
“We don’t discuss acquisitions or transfers or signings of players who are with other teams. That’s ethically wrong and everything else. So at this point in time I’m not going to have a public opinion of one player over the other unless those players are free agents.”
Arena did say that the club was in talks to retain midfielder Juninho who spent his third straight season with the club on loan from Sao Paulo in his native Brazil.
“We’ve been working on that for a while,” Arena said. “We’ll keep working on that, we’re hopeful that we can bring him back.”
The 23-year-old midfielder may be harder to retain after having the best season of his career in 2012. Juninho appeared in 38 MLS games for the Galaxy in 2012, including playoffs, scoring seven goals and assisting on six more – including the game-tying assist in the MLS Cup final.
Fellow Brazilian Leonardo was also mentioned by Arena as someone the club was “discussing with him and his agent to bring him back.” The central defender has been hampered by injuries and did not feature in a regular season game for LA in 2012.
To add defensive depth, Arena indicated that Academy defender Oscar Sorto would be signed during the offseason and “he’ll be a part of our club in 2013.” During 2012, Sorto played for LA’s U-18 squad and in the Reserve League while often training with the first team. When asked about the possibility of signing other Homegrown players, Arena said it was possible but that it would depend on specific conversations with players.
MLS Cup MVP Omar Gonzalez was also a topic of conversation as he has drawn international interest in the past..
“Omar Gonzalez is on our team, that’s how we’re preparing,” Arena said of Gonzalez’s status for next season. “We’re not worried about anything until that changes and right now he’s a member of our team.”
Arena did say that Gonzalez would “certainly not” go out on loan like he did a year ago. It was on the first day of training during that loan when Gonzalez suffered the knee injury that kept him out for the first half of the 2012 season. Arena added that as of now no other offseason loans were expected since he believed they contributed to some of 2012’s early-season woes.
With the club opting to skip a postseason tour, the Galaxy now officially enter the offseason they barely got to enjoy a year ago.
“I think everything’s going to fall into place better for our team in 2013,” Arena said. “And hopefully that allows us to have a better start to the season.”