Crisis in Carson; Or, How I Came to Love the LA Galaxy

Coming off of some disturbing comments from Landon Donovan, it seems natural to me to arrive at the question of “What would a post-Donovan LA Galaxy look like?”.

Here’s Lando’s quote that’s been propagated around the interwebz for the last couple of days:

There’s a natural point where it’s not as fun anymore, not as enjoyable, and you still try to find ways to keep it enjoyable. I used to think maybe if I’m still fit I can play a long time. I think from a mental standpoint now I’m realizing if I’m not enjoying it I’m not going to play. I still enjoy it to a large extent, but I’ve always promised myself that if that ever goes away I’m not going to play just to play.

Now, to be fair to Ol’ Lando, I think many pundits are taking this out of context. Here’s what he said immediately before this paragraph in answer to the same question of “How have you changed in these last two years?”:

There’s been some transformation in the way the sport is for me now. In 2010 I was so eager to show myself that I could still do it. 2006 was so disappointing. There was that sort of passion and hunger. Candidly, the last few years — last year included, even though we won the championship [in L.A.] — there’s more of a reality that I’m not going to be able to do this forever. I’m not going to want to do this forever. I know that I have many better things and greater things to do in my life still.

Grant Wahl’s question is obviously in reference to the 2010 World Cup, something that’s been left out of much of the commentary floating around since Wednesday. In my opinion, assuming that it was asked for, Donovan is addressing the zeitgeist that has surrounded the US Men’s National Team since 2002 — that Landon Donovan is the center of the Nat’s roster. He’s growing weary of it, and he’s not sure how much longer he can hold out being that constant focus of attention and representative of the team. If anything, Donovan is questioning his status as a player at the international level, not whether he still has fire in his belly for the Galaxy and their dismal season so far in 2012.

Regardless, I think it might be pleasurable to see what a post-Donovan Galaxy might look like. It’s apparent to me that LA is straying all-too-close to a rebuilding phase, unless for some reason they decide to start the car and put it in gear before the summer’s over.

As it stands now, all three Galaxy DP’s will be out of contract by the end of the 2013 season. Landon’s contract was last renewed at the end of 2009 for four years. Beckham’s two year contract was instated this past January. And Robbie Keane’s will be up sometime next summer, presuming that by “two years” it was meant from the date of signature. That means that the Galaxy will be freed of roughly $13.2 million a year… of course that would be without any designated players on the roster and a whole boat load of mediocre stable dwellers.

So, what’s a rebuilding team to do with $13.2 million off the payroll?

If it were me, I’d invest in youth. No, not the SuperDraft-style youth that has proven to be largely hit or miss since MLS’ inception. I mean taking advantage of the newly designed DP rules that gives an extra bonus to clubs that sign players 23 or under to DP contracts. Under this new clause, clubs having a DP over the age of 23 will be subject to the first $350K of their contract counting against the salary cap of $2.81 million in 2012. Players 21-23 will only have the first $200K count towards the cap. And players 20 or younger will only have the first $150K count towards the cap. The hope is this will convince clubs to try to save on the cap space by hiring youngsters to fill those spots and to shirk the reputation that MLS is some retirement league for aging stars like the Beckham’s, Henry’s, and Marco DiVaio’s of the world.

LA should be the first to take advantage of this. Yes, I realize that the Timbers had signed Jose Adolfo Valencia to the new Young DP contract prior to this season, but Valencia’s unforeseen injury has relegated him to surgery and recovery while not making more than a handful of practices with the club and zero appearances to speak of. Valencia isn’t supposed to recover until at least the end of 2012, possibly next winter. Just like with the original “Beckham Rule”, LA should take the opportunity to once again be pioneers in bringing raw talent to the league. It’d be rather poetic, don’t you think?

So, here’s how my plan goes down — don’t wait until those DP contracts expire; act now. Donovan talking about wanting a permanent move to the Toffees of Everton? Give it to him. Starting August 1, Donovan’s contract is sold to Everton for the start of the new EPL season. Or the highest bidder in England if Everton ain’t got the dough. The same goes for Keane. His stint at Aston proved rather successful (3 goals in 5 games), so maybe the Villans management might bite on a deal if offered.

Beckham is the tough one here. Not because of the length of the contract, but because of the stipulation of a clause within it:  that he is afforded the opportunity at MLS club ownership at a reduced rate. The going rate, as per Don Garber, is apparently $100M. For the last several months, I’ve had the theory that Beckham’s retirement will coincide with not only the end of his Galaxy contract, but also with the efforts of MLS bringing a second franchise to NYC, be it a resurrected Cosmos or otherwise. Considering there’s no expansion planned for 2013, the 2014 season could see Beckham finally retire as a 39 year old millionaire, possibly the biggest soccer name in the history of the sport, and the new owner of a New York-based MLS franchise. (That’s the Castle in the Air part).

The interim period between Donovan’s and Keane’s departures and their English counterpart’s departure will see Beckham playing the usual #10 position and mentoring a possible new, younger #10 on the pitch, staging the Galaxy’s rise once again. One Young DP spot could be used for this purpose, so let’s say that total cost of this youngen will be $1M with, at most, $200K counting towards the cap. The second DP slot could also be used for a younger player, possibly an upcoming striker from a South American academy. We all know how much the South American’s love selling the rights to their youth. So, just for giggles, let’s say this kid is under 21, $800K salary, $150K towards the cap.

During the 2013 season, we see that original $13.2M DP payroll go down to $8.3M, and by the time 2014 rolls around, LA has another $6.5M (Beckham’s) off the docket. What to do? Sign a big name star from Europe that’s under the age of 30. Possibly a central defender? Let’s say $3M a year?

All said and done, the Galaxy have saved $7.9M from the payroll, while also saving $350K from the salary cap (essentially eliminating the cost of a DP, a two for one deal!). That extra cash could help pay well-performing players already on the roster, or help bring in better players from outside.

All this postulating and daydreaming is great in the theoretical, but will it actually happen? I doubt it. Beckham may very well live up to the theory I have for him. But I really doubt Bruce will be dealing Landon and Robbie any time soon. So, in the meantime, I’ll continue to love the Los Angeles Galaxy for their losing ways as they return to their Beckham: Year One form. Hope the basement isn’t so dark and chilly for you this time around.

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