Is Bruce Arena to Blame for LA’s Downfall?

Los Angeles fails to replace its missing parts in tough 2013 season
by Roy Rosell   |   Monday, January 06, 2014

John Hefti Photography - LA Galaxy, MLS

The Los Angeles Galaxy entered the 2013 campaign fully aware that they were favorites to win the MLS Cup.

The bold acquisitions of the past few years made it clear that they would move mountains to be the best. David Beckham and Robbie Keane brought glamour, excitement and trophies. Two MLS Cups in a row had fans across the league calling for MLS Commissioner Don Garber's head on accusations of favoritism for the champions. Another Galaxy trophy could have signaled the death of league parity and the birth to the age of the giant.

In the 3 seasons leading to the start of the 2013 campaign, the Galaxy claimed 2 MLS Cups and 2 Supporters’ Shields. In 2011, they strolled to a second consecutive Supporters’ Shield title and the first of back-to-back MLS Cups. With their roster and veteran know-how, they never really appeared threatened. How could they be threatened when they had the deadliest passer the game placing balls on a platter for the 5th highest scoring European player of all time, and the top scorer in US Soccer history to gobble up?

They had become experts at winning when it mattered most and it seemed nobody would stand in their path.

Then came the 2013 season. Once again, the Galaxy was front page news almost every week from the start of the season. This time around, it was for all the wrong reasons.

Their master passer and midfield engine left to Paris. Their goal machine moved to beachside Cambodia to ponder his future in the sport with a martini in hand.

Worst of all, the Galaxy made what is unanimously being considered the worst transaction in the history of the league, trading away the heart of the team, Mike Magee, to Chicago where he then claimed league MVP and came in second for most goals scored (21).

In exchange, the Galaxy received a semi-retired Robbie Rogers who showed brief moments of potential (VERY brief), but it was all rust and no reward for the remainder of the season for Magee’s overhyped and underperforming replacement.

After the dust settled, the Galaxy had lost their heart, their soul and the engine that made them go. Worst yet, they didn't bother to adequately replace any of them.

As a result, they sputtered to a disappointing 15-11-8 record in the regular season. Their inconsistency was astounding; the LA Galaxy had become completely erratic. One overly dominant, skillfully executed thrashing over their opponents would be immediately followed by a lethargic and completely uninspired outing. It became difficult to predict results as nobody knew which Galaxy would show up on any given day.

But there were still championship aspirations – after all, they finished dead last in the Western Conference last year and still managed to dominate the playoffs and take home the MLS Cup. Why not again this year?

It was a very different Galaxy team. The core was there, but like a Queen come-back tour, there was always a nagging feeling that there was something big missing and everybody knew it. But there was belief. Though it was just 1-0, the LA bulldozed past Real Salt Lake in the first game of the Western Conference semi-finals. It was a display of supremacy that could have resulted in a 4-0 blowout if it wasn’t for some abysmal finishing.

Then, the battle cry of every American fan became the worst nightmare of the LA Galaxy on the final game of the 2013 MLS Playoffs. Dos a Cero. They were blanked. Going in to the game with a goal in hand, the Galaxy showed their trademark inconsistency by following a skillful display at home with a stale, unimaginative, and overall embarrassing performance to get knocked out of the playoffs.

Reflecting on the season, the problems couldn’t be clearer. They suffered from a tremendous over reliance on key offensive players. During national team call-ups, the team was left stripped to the bone and forced to use unproven youngsters to carry them. The fact that they traded away the league’s most effective goal scorer raises the argument that this season was lost because of terrible decisions (and non-decisions) on the transfer market.

When asked about what the Galaxy needs to compete next season, Bruce Arena responded, “I think we can use another forward, and probably more of a target forward to complement the players that we have there. We can use an experienced flank player. We can get better with our passing in the central midfield position, and we can get better in the back as well. Although we have a good group there, we'd still like to get a little bit better, if we can.”

In other words, LA needs better forwards, a midfield that passes well and a stronger defense, if possible. Trading away their most dangerous scoring threat to Chicago earlier in the year wasn’t the most intelligent decision. Unless of course, Arena was feeling a bit philanthropic, in which case, handing over the soon to be league MVP will certainly satisfy those feelings for years to come.

The decision to not make a greater effort to lessen the effect of losing Beckham; or more recently, loaning one of the most promising attacking threats in the league, Jose Villarreal, to Mexico for a year instead of sending him to the USL PRO to get his chops like Kansas City did with Dom Dwyer (to great effect), weren’t exactly top decisions either.

Making the right moves this offseason and avoiding senseless decisions will be critical for the Galaxy if they wish to return to the MLS throne. But cries of “In Bruce We Trust” are sounding more and more unconvincing. 

NEXT UP: March 8 – Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. 10:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live.


Cal Poly Pomona
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
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Absolute fanatic, especially passionate about MLS and it's growth. LA Galaxy columnist with no filter and a knack for the controversial. Travelled the world watching soccer matches, but there's no place like home.