Projected Starting Lineup:
Off the Bench: MF Josh Tudela, MF Pete Vagenas, MF Brandon McDonald, DF/MF Sean Franklin, MF Mike Randolph, GK Josh Wicks, DF Julian Valentin, DF Ante Jazic
It's a bit thin after David Beckham, Carlos Ruiz, Landon Donovan, Chris Klein, but that's what makes this all so interesting, right? Greg Vanney and Abel Xavier will have their good days and bad days in central defense, but the real keys lie with newcomer Michael Gavin who fill in until Ante Jazic returns to health and form. Chris Klein's move to the back could be challenged by a motivated rookie in Sean Franklin, both looked semi-decent in a bunch of the preseason matches. The other rookie that could step in and play well is U-20 World Cup standout and Philadelphia area native Julian Valentin. It will be interesting to see how this all pulls together, especially with a bit of a disconnect between the holding midfielders and the defense.
If inexperience lies anywhere it's in the holding midfielder role. Lalas and Gullit want Beckham free to spray those nasty long balls all day, which means there needs to be a guy in the middle willing to win the tackles necessary to get Becks open. Alvaro Pires has talent, but has lacked consistency so far. Josh Tudela is a fighter, but counters his won challenges with really crappy passing. If all that can figure itself out, you could see a pretty decent midfield. Either way, though, you can never bet against a midfield holding two players like Beckham and Donovan. On any given day, the Galaxy can be the best in the league. Just depends if they want to make that a commonplace occurance.
Up at forward, Carlos 'El Pescondito' Ruiz is going to have a monster year. He is still around, he likes where's playing now, and he's got both Donovan and Beckham playing him crosses. I'll eat my words, but he's got no way out of this one. In LA, he either performs or finds another league to play in. Expect a 15 goal season from the guy, with Alan Gordon in a purely supportive role. In fact, I could see a 4-5-1 tactice if Gordon fails to produce. That way, there would be two ball-winners to distribute to Beckham and Donovan. The rest could fall in place from there.
Goalkeeper Steve Cronin has waited his turn and it's his job to lose. Back-up Josh Wicks will be waiting in the wings to see if he can sneak in there. Kind of like Ray Burse, Jr. with Dario Sala last season. Cronin has talent, but I think it will be a Bouna Coundoul-like first starting season for him. Great saves mixed with some pisspoor mistakes.
With all that said, the Galaxy could fall into their rut from last year, but a return of Vagenas and Jazic to active duty could solidify a decent line-up. Better than most people think. Still can't put them high in the Western Conference until I see all the questions get answered. That's a lot of rookies getting time, but Gullit seems confident, and I see a playoff spot to say the least.
Outlook: 3rd in the West