Steven Gerrard knows that 2016 could be the final year of his illustrious playing career, and the midfielder is determined to make his potential last season a winning one with the LA Galaxy.
Gerrard returns to Liverpool this week to spend the offseason at his Merseyside home and prepare for the 2016 preseason which is slated to begin in January.
The 2015 campaign was an unsatisfying one for Gerrard who scored in his MLS league debut only to see his attacking output wane as the season went on. The flashes of his world-class talent were there, but the production was not as he ended the year with just two goals and three assists in 14 league games.
As Gerrard walked off the pitch at CenturyLink Field following the Galaxy’s Knockout Round defeat to Seattle Sounders FC, the 35-year-old midfielder was already thinking of ways to flip the script next year.
“It could be my last season as a footballer. … I certainly don’t want to feel like I’m feeling right now come next year,” Gerrard told reporters in Seattle last week. “I’d love to go out on a high. It’s a long season and I only came here for the last four months, but I’ll certainly be better for the experience next year.”
For all his experience with Liverpool FC and England, 2015 was a almost like a rookie year for the veteran who arrived at a league dramatically different than anything that he had seen with Liverpool. Whether it was suffocating humidity in Houston or playing at altitude in Colorado or dealing with the plastic pitch at CenturyLink, each match delivered new trials and new lessons for Gerrard.
Adjusting to a new league wasn’t the only challenge, however. Gerrard also needed to adapt to a new team that was already in the middle of their season. The switch paid off initially as the Galaxy flourished into one of the hottest clubs in MLS after the summer arrival of Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos, but saw their form dip dramatically in the final month of the season.
“Going on the road, playing on turf, playing at altitude, playing in humidity, those are the hurdles that I’ve had to face over the last three months that I wasn’t aware of. Every away game has a different challenge,” said Gerrard. “At home, we’ve got no problems because we’re very strong and we play well. We’ll always win more than we lose. For us to move forward next year and finish in the top two spots—and avoid games like [Seattle]—we’ve got to be better defensively and stop conceding on set pieces and crosses.”
As the team turns their focus to next season, Gerrard says formulating a strong defense is priority No. 1 for the Galaxy.
Despite boasting an impressive attack that included himself, Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and others, the Galaxy were too often forced to score in bunches to stay in games. Their slide in late-September and October shows this well as the Galaxy conceded 16 times in their last six league matches to fall from the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings to out of the playoffs altogether in the opening round.
These defensive errors ultimately proved to be the Galaxy's undoing as the team committed three costly gaffes in Seattle's 3-2 Knockout Round victory last week.
“I know [Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena] quite well now … and I’m sure that’s where he’ll be analyzing over the winter. [We have] to stop this team from conceding goals, we know that,” he said. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know that if you’re going to be successful that you can’t keep conceding goals. It’s too difficult to win football matches if you concede two or three every game. We know that’s where he’ll be analyzing over the winter.”
If the Galaxy and Gerrard can right the ship defensively next season, then the Englishman is confident that they’ll compete for an MLS Cup title.
“Knowing this club and looking at it from the outside, I know that we’ll try to improve in certain areas,” Gerrard said. “We’ll improve the squad, and we’ll hopefully have a [team] that’s ready to compete again next year.”