Weekly Column: With Gonzalez gone, Galaxy must replace heart of defense

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Big man: An attacking threat as well as a defensive bulwark, Omar Gonzalez will be missed by the Galaxy as they begin the defense of their MLS crown (AP Photo).

It’s difficult to underestimate the influence the quiet, yet commanding presence of Omar Gonzalez had on the Galaxy’s taut back four last season.

And it is the biggest question the Galaxy face as preseason training opens at Home Depot Center.

Read more in today’s column here.

And according to this report, this is the player the Galaxy is after to step in for Gonzalez.

In other camp notes (via the Galaxy weekly release):

Off season acquisitions Andrew Boyens, Nick Noble, Pat Noonan, Marcelo Sarvas and Jose Villarreal were all out on the field training Monday as were trialists Bill Gaudette and J.T. Murray.

Additionally, six of the club’s seven recent draft picks were on the field as SuperDraft selections Tommy Meyer and Kenney Walker were joined by Supplemental Draft picks Bryan Gaul, Rafael Garcia, Yuri Gorentzvaig and Stephen Posa.

Justin Davies, a defender from San Diego State who was the final pick of last week’s Supplemental Draft, did not train as he continues to recover from a left ankle sprain that he suffered prior to joining the club, though he is expected to be on the field for the first time later this week.

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Day 1: Galaxy training camp update – Sarvas Speaks

Juninho’s replacement, fellow Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, is under no illusions about his role at the Galaxy. He’s not Juninho, but his role is the same: bring the best out of David Beckham.

“I know the story of Junnho here at this club,” he said. “He came in and did big things here. I’m not coming here to replace Juninho. I’m here to implement my own game.

“David is a player I need to find a way to open up the game for him, get him the ball in space so he can have the opportunity to create great things.”

Incidentally, Sarvas conducted virtually the entire interview in his native tongue even though his English sounds just fine.

The funniest moment came when he quickly broke into English after he was asked how he thought his style of play would fit with the Galaxy.

“I’m Brazilian,” he shot back as if that was the only explanation required.

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Day 1: Galaxy training camp update

Torrential rain during the first Galaxy practice drove a small knot of reporters into the drier depths of Home Depot Center this morning.

That meant no wifi access, so I was unable to tweet live, but here’s what we learned today:

*The big question is who will replace Omar Gonzalez in central defense? Coach Bruce Arena sounded like a coach who knows they have to bring in an experienced defender to partner A.J. DeLaGarza in the middle of the back four and the club is looking overseas at several options.

*Leonardo is expected to return, but is not yet in camp so his name was not included in a list of 34 players that make up the club’s roster at this point (Paolo Cardozo is on the list and will remain with the club, incidentally). The Galaxy must still come to terms with the central defender’s Brazilian club for a new loan, but the player is also still recovering from the injury that sidelined him for most of 2011. I’ll have more on this including some words from former Chivas USA defender Andrew Boyens in Tuesday’s column.

*The biggest news of the day was the fact that veteran Jovan Kirovski has retired and replaced Gregg Berhalter on the club’s coaching staff.

*Of the aforementioned roster, five other players are not in camp: Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan remain on loan with EPL clubs, DeLaGarza is with the national team and goalkeeper Brian Perk and midfielder Michael Stephens are with the U-23s.

*Chris Birchall’s status remains uncertain. He had initially wanted to explore opportunities with British clubs, but Arena said more recently he’s expressed interest in returning to the Galaxy. Whether there’s space on the roster for him at this point is unclear.

*Defender Chris Leitch has opted to retire rather than join the Galaxy, while neither Frankie Hejduk or Dasan Robinson will return to the club.

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Galaxy open pre-season training today

And I’m about to make my first trip to Home Depot Center for the first time this year, but frankly it scarcely feels as if I’ve been away given the length of the shortest-ever off-season.

Just in the past four days or so we’ve seen David Beckham pledge his future to the Galaxy and MLS for the next two years, defender A.J. DeLaGarza make his U.S. national team debut in the 1-0 win over Venezuela and Robbie Keane making headlines in England with a two-goal outburst for Aston Villla.

And now the run-up to the MLS 2012 season begins.

Some of you have already asked questions I will seek answers for at what will largely be an inside training session today given the soggy and gloomy weather here in the South Bay.

Any others can be asked either in the comments section here, via Titter @LAsoccerblog or at the 100 Percent Soccer Facebook page.

Armed with a new iPad, I’ll attempt to Tweet, post photos and tape interviews (depending on the HDC wifi in the bowels of the stadium and my level of skill with this new contraption).

And I’ll have more in Tuesday’s column.

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Friday Kicks: LeRoux, Lampard & more

*UCLA product Sydney LeRoux and Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach were named by U.S. Soccer as the Young Female Athlete of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year respectively. Brek Shea and Clint Dempsey won the corresponding awards for male players.

Here’s more from the Associated Press:

CHICAGO (AP) — Abby Wambach has been voted the U.S. Soccer Federation’s female athlete of the year for the fifth time, matching Mia Hamm’s record. Clint Dempsey has been voted top male athlete for the first time since 2007.

The USSF also said Friday that Brek Shea and Sydney Leroux were the top young athletes.

Wambach won previously in 2003, 2004, 2007 and last year. Hamm won from 1994 to 1998. Wambach scored four goals at the Women’s World Cup, including one in the 122nd minute in the semifinals that forced penalty kicks and enabled the Americans to reach the final, where they lost to Germany.

Dempsey scored three goals at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Playing for Fulham, he passed Brian McBride to become the highest-scoring American in the Premier League.

Online votes counted for half the total, with the rest from media and USSF representatives.

*Toronto FC announced this morning that 35,000 tickets have been sold for the March 7 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the Galaxy, who will make their only appearance in Toronto for the game this year. The indoor Rogers Centre holds 45,000, but ticket sales so far mean Toronto have already set a new home attendance record.

*The Galaxy open preseason training Monday, with all players undergoing physicals this weekend. Here’s who is – and is not – in camp, according to a club press release:

A total of 16 players from last year’s MLS Cup winning squad are expected to be on hand for the club’s first day of training on Monday, while five players – A.J. DeLaGarza, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Brian Perk and Michael Stephens – are currently away on international duty or on loan.

In addition to the 16 returning players that will be in attendance, new acquisitions Andrew Boyens, Nick Noble, Pat Noonan, Marcelo Sarvas and Jose Villarreal will all train with the club for the first time.

Additionally, all seven of the club’s recent draft picks, as well as trialists, Bill Gaudette, a goalkeeper who played for the Columbus Crew, Puerto Rico Islanders and Montreal Impact, as well as defender J.T. Murray, a second round pick by Sporting Kansas City in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville, will be with the club for Monday’s training session.

I’ll have more in Tuesday’s column.

*Chelsea’s Frank Lampard will not be there even though AEG head honcho Tim Leiweke is a huge fan. Who isn’t? (current Chelsea management aside, apparently). But no one should hold their breath Lampard is coming to LA anytime soon.

*If you only watch one game this weekend: Make it Norwich City-Chelsea at 4:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. Those of you not biased City fans (ahem) may want to see the U.S. play Chivas USA veteran Alejandro Moreno and Venezuela at 6 p.m. Saturday on Galavision. Thank heaven for soccer-loving Spanish-language channels.

*

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No Italian escape hatch as USWNT begins Olympic qualifying

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Saving Solo: Goalkeeper Hope Solo and the rest of the U.S. National Team open their Olympic qualifying campaign Friday night in Vanvouver, B.C. (AP Photo).

You can watch the U.S. women play the Dominican Republic tonight at 7:30 online at concacaf.com

It’s also available on television here.

And you can read an Associated Press preview from Sports Writer Joseph White here:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The U.S. women’s soccer team got some help Thursday in its bid to qualify for the London Olympics.

Well, actually, “The Help.”

Known to sing a rock ‘n’ roll lyric or two to her players to get a message across, coach Pia Sundhage instead quoted from the critically acclaimed movie when she addressed the team ahead of Friday’s opening game against the Dominican Republic. The Americans are in Vancouver for a tournament that will send two teams to London this summer.

“I’m a big fan of having a good start, so I want to surprise them,” Sundhage said. “Sometimes we take things for granted, so I was standing there and my first words — I didn’t sing — I look at them and I say: ‘You’re kind. You’re smart. You’re important.’ That’s exactly what they are.”

As the No. 1 ranked team in the world, it would seem the U.S. women wouldn’t need help of any kind to earn one of the two Olympic berths available in the eight-team CONCACAF tournament over the next 11 days. Getting to the World Cup or an Olympics was always a given: Their combined record was once 25-0-1 in qualifying for the sport’s two biggest events.

Until 2010, that is.

The Americans went to Cancun and blistered through the group phase of the World Cup qualifying tournament — winning three games by a combined score of 18-0 — before getting stunned by Mexico 2-1 in the semifinals. The U.S. had to win a backdoor playoff against Italy to earn a spot in Germany, a hurdle mostly forgotten as the team made a captivating run before losing to Japan in the World Cup final.

The format for this tournament is the same — except there’s no backdoor playoff. The two teams that win the semifinals go to London; everyone else stays home.

“There’s no Italy to back us up this year,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said.

That makes every game crucial, even the group matches against teams like the Dominican Republic (ranked No. 88) and Guatemala (No. 85), followed by the eagerly awaited rematch against Mexico (No. 21). One slip-up and the Americans might end up with a do-or-die semifinal game against No. 7 Canada, which is expected to win the other group.

“There’s no better motivation than things not going as you planned,” forward Abby Wambach said. “And definitely the last qualification didn’t go as we planned. We thankfully had a second chance with playing the home-and-away series against Italy, and this time around we don’t have that chance. All of us know that. It’s not something that we even talk about.

“We’re one of the best teams in the world, and we just can’t show up for qualification and play and expect to win nowadays. Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, they’re all really good teams, and they have a good chance of beating us on any given day.”

So where there used to be ho-hum, there’s now drama. While it shows that American domination isn’t what it used to be, it’s good for women’s soccer as a whole as the sport tries to expand its reach and command attention at times when there’s not a World Cup or Olympics going on.

Any tournament is going to have its idiosyncrasies, and this one is no exception. After all,
this is Canada in January, so the games are being played indoors at BC Place. Sundhage is trying to get the Americans to play a more possession-type game, which can be a little tricky when the ball is bouncing on artificial turf.

Defender Heather Mitts tweeted a photo of a bloody knee after Thursday’s practice with the comment: “meet the BC turf.”

Ironically, soccer could’ve been played outdoors when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics two years ago. The city that didn’t see a flake during the 2010 Winter Games has snow on the ground and freezing temperatures this week as it hosts a sport from the summer version.

There’s also the compact schedule. Three group matches in five days, then a short break before the all-important semifinals and the somewhat anticlimactic final. The U.S. has a deep, veteran team, so Sundhage is expected to spread the playing time around so that everyone is fresh for the one game that matters most.

“Right now we are in a wonderful situation, where you have the starting lineup, and as coaches we’ll look at the bench — ‘Wow. There are some good players,’” Sundhage said. “Regardless of who we pick for the starting lineup, we’ll have good players. Now the key is whether they play well together, so that’s something we need to look into with the games we have in front of us.”

Torrance’s Shannon Boxx has more to say in this video from U.S. Soccer:

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Beckham unveiled

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LA Lads: Anschutz Entertainment Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke, David Beckham and Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena pose during a news conference today at LA Live formally announcing the signing of the English star to a new two-year contract (AP Photo).

The Galaxy unveiled a new jersey, too, (white with a blue stripe).

The Galaxy is streaming a live interview with Arena here. It started at 4 p.m.

Reporter Phil Collin filed this story for the dead tree edition.

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Galaxy Open House Sunday in Carson

The free event runs from noon to 4 p.m. at Home Depot Center.

Current season ticket and mini plan holders will have a rare first-come first-served opportunity to get on to the field at the stadium where the club won MLS Cup last year, participate in drills with players Todd Dunivant, Josh Saunders and Bryan Jordan and play a scrimmage.

All attendees will receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, a 25 percent discount on all Galaxy gear at the TEAM LA Store and watch the Galaxy Academy U-18 and U-16 teams take on their Vancouver Whitecaps counterparts at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. respectively.

Gourmet food trucks Kog, The Grilled Cheese Truck and Coolhaus will serve up food.

And yeah, the club will be more than happy to sell you season tickets.

Full details are here.

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David Beckham: A Legend in his Own Mind

Or at least in this self-serving press release I’m reprinting in full below the Galaxy just released telling us all what we’ve known for hours anyway: That Beckham is back, although of course, he never really left.

Read on and you’ll discover just how great Beckham has been for the Galaxy, soccer in general and the escalation of MLS franchise fees (yup, he gets credit for that, too).

Naturally it helps when a press release somehow manages to quote no fewer than two people who work for Beckham, conveniently ignore the ruinous 9-14-7 and 8-13-9 2007 and 2008 seasons (his first two years that sported the worst records in club history) the club has yet to recover from (Galaxy officials cite them as the reason the dominant club weren’t selling out Home Depot Center with any great regularity last season) or the catastrophic reign of former coach Ruud Gullit (who was hand-picked by Beckham’s management team).

Aside from those reasons, as well as his frequent absences through loan spells and injury, his inability to actually run anymore and questions about whether he can repeat his 2011 performance (which even Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena called Beckham’s first real season in the league) he’s been great.

A press conference is set for 2 p.m. Thursday at Staples Center, incidentally.

Still, readers of this blog overwhelmingly agree with the Galaxy’s to re-sign Beckham, incidentally (and to clarify I do, too, at least at a reduced salary at his age).

But this loooong press release is more than a little over the top, IMHO:

CARSON, Calif. (Wednesday, January 18, 2012) – The LA Galaxy announced today that the club has re-signed midfielder David Beckham to a two-year contract, extending his stay with the MLS Cup Champions. Beckham, who had the best season of his five-year MLS career in 2011, helped lead the Galaxy to their first MLS Cup title since 2005.

Since joining the club as the first Designated Player in MLS History, the Galaxy have reached MLS Cup twice and won the Supporters’ Shield twice while also seeing the club reach new heights in terms of international recognition and popularity.

“This was an important decision for me,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “I had many offers from clubs from around the world, however, I’m still passionate about playing in America and winning trophies with the Galaxy.”

“I’ve seen first hand how popular soccer is now in the States and I’m as committed as ever to growing the game here,” he added. “My family and I are incredibly happy and settled in America and we look forward to spending many more years here.”

In five years with the Galaxy, Beckham was twice named to the MLS All-Star Team and finished the 2011 season with a career-best 15 assists, earning him a spot on the MLS Best XI. Beckham’s individual success helped translate to team success last season as the club repeated as Supporters’ Shield winners, finishing the season with a 19-5-10 record for 67 points, which were the second most in League history. That form continued into the postseason where the Galaxy won all four of their postseason games, culminating with a 1-0 win over Houston at The Home Depot Center in MLS Cup 2011. Beckham had an assist in that game, just as he did in each of the club’s first three playoffs games, giving him a league-best four postseason assists on the year.

“I am thrilled that David has chosen to re-join the Galaxy, especially as he had numerous options where he could continue his career,” Galaxy General Manager and Head Coach Bruce Arena said. “I felt that he was one of the best players in all of MLS last season and we could not have achieved the success that we did without him. We look forward to trying to replicate that success this season with David once again in a Galaxy uniform.”

In 74 career regular season games in a Galaxy uniform, Beckham has 31 assists to go along with 11 goals with the club going 15-2-4 in the past three seasons when he scored a goal or recorded an assist. Additionally, the 36-year-old has helped lead the Galaxy to the postseason in each of the last three seasons, tallying seven assists in 11 postseason games. The Galaxy also qualified for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in club history last season, with Beckham playing in four of the club’s six games while setting up a pair of goals in the competition.

In addition to Beckham’s on-field success, the former England captain has also had an historic impact on the game in the U.S. and globally. His mid-season arrival in Southern California coincided with the launch of the club’s new logo and colors, strengthening the Galaxy’s reputation in the global game and making the club’s jersey the best-selling in MLS and one of the best in the world.

“There has been much speculation in the past four months on where David was going to play and we did not get caught up in this and remained focused on re-signing him,” said Tim Leiweke, President & CEO, AEG. “David had many options and we are pleased he felt comfortable, not only with our organization but also with Los Angeles, and will remain an important part of our club, our AEG family and our City”.

“The Galaxy had an unbelievable year in 2011, David had a great year individually and the club were deservedly crowned Supporters’ Shield winners and MLS Cup Champions,” added Leiweke. “The 2011 Galaxy team may have been the best club in MLS history and like David, we are focused on repeating that success in 2012 and fielding the most exciting team for our fans.”

“When David and I discussed making the move from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy back in 2007, our minds were firmly focused on the massive opportunity of helping to grow soccer in the United States,” added Simon Fuller, Beckham’s Business Partner and Manager. “We have made great progress over the past 5 years in raising the profile of soccer domestically and the MLS on a worldwide stage, and we are encouraged by all the results. However, clearly this is an ongoing mission and this new deal confirms our commitment to continuing our journey and making sure the world’s biggest sport, soccer, continues to grow in the world’s most passionate sports loving nation, the USA.”

In the past five years, the Galaxy emerged as a truly international club with worldwide recognition through tours that have drawn record crowds and major sponsors in such countries as Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea. Locally, the Galaxy have hosted sellout crowds against international powers such as AC Milan, Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid, playing in front of more than 330,000 fans at The Home Depot Center, L.A. Coliseum and Rose Bowl in those matches.

Major League Soccer has also experienced exponential growth in the first five years that Beckham has played for the Galaxy, growing from 12 teams in 2006 to 19 teams this season, including the expansion Montreal Impact. In that time, the expansion fee for clubs has quadrupled from $10 million to $40 million, with $170 million being raised in expansion fees since the start of the 2007 MLS season. In that same time, nine new soccer-specific stadiums have been built in Major League Soccer, giving the League a total of 15 in 2012, while average attendance rose to 17,872 last season, making MLS the 10th best attended league in the world.

“What David has accomplished since joining the Galaxy five years ago is truly remarkable,” said Jeff Frasco of Creative Artists Agency (CAA). “While David has been a tremendous ambassador for soccer in the U.S., he has set further goals for himself, both professionally and personally, and we are pleased to be part of the team to help him achieve these and more.”

Beckham and the LA Galaxy will open preseason ahead of the 2012 MLS season next week at The Home Depot Center.

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Wednesday Kicks: Galaxy set to announce new Beckham deal & more*

*Post updated

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Adman: Because, after all, if you had an H&M underwear ad running Super Bowl Sunday would you want to be stuck in France? (AP/H&M Photo).

*David Beckham has reportedly reached terms on a new contract with MLS and the Galaxy.

It’s probably no coincidence the news comes ahead of Beckham’s live interview on his YouTube channel at 9 a.m. Thursday, which also precedes his first Google+ “hangout.”

*Update

Beckham’s new contract is for two years.

“This was an important decision for me,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “I had many offers from clubs from around the world, however, I’m still passionate about playing in America and winning trophies with the Galaxy.”

“I’ve seen first hand how popular soccer is now in the States and I’m as committed as ever to growing the game here,” he added. “My family and I are incredibly happy and settled in America and we look forward to spending many more years here.”

*Two suspects were arrested in the murder of El Camino High School goalkeeper Francisco Rodriguez.

*Former Real Salt Lake goalkeeper goalkeeper Tim Melia, 25, has signed with Chivas USA.

*Former Chivas USA striker Maicon Santos continues his grand tour of MLS, joining D.C. United, the club announced today. The 27-year-old Brazilian scored one goal and an assist in nine matches with Chivas USA in 2010 before moving on to Toronto and then Dallas.

* Fox formally announced today that the network will lead off NFC Championship Sunday with its first-ever live EPL game on a U.S. broadcast television, showing Arsenal and Manchester United from the Emirates Stadium. Coverage begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday from Los Angeles with former ESPN commentator Rob Stone making his debut with Fox accompanied by analyst Eric Wynalda and CNN talk show host and Arsenal supporter Piers Morgan.

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