After a disappointing CONCACAF Champions League campaign earlier this year, Bruce Arena’s Los Angeles Galaxy look to bounce back this time around. The key to success for the Galaxy during their CCL run is quality roster depth.
Even Landon Donovan agrees that winning the CCL has a lot to do with a team’s roster depth. In an interview with L.A. Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano, Donovan said, "The most important thing is having a number of players that can contribute because you can’t play the same 11 guys 45 or 50 times a year."
Starting with the defense, the Galaxy have not changed much at all. The championship backline of Todd Dunivant, A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin is still intact.
Through the 2012 MLS supplemental draft, the Galaxy added some much-needed depth in Bryan Gaul at left-back. Although Todd Dunivant is much better defensively at this position, Gaul is a solid backup. What makes Gaul so unique as a left-back is that he’s 6'5" and played forward for a year in college.
As for the midfield, Bruce Arena tends to send out the likes of Mike Magee, David Beckham, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas. With the recent addition of Swedish international Christian Wilhelmsson, we’ll likely see either Sarvas or Magee sent to the bench.
Besides these players, the Galaxy have quite a few midfielders that can come off the bench and play quality minutes. For example, Michael Stephens and Hector Jimenez are both players who can provide some extra offense if needed. On the other hand, Bryan Jordan can be a defensive presence in any game.
There’s so much quality midfield depth that Arena has opted to pair Landon Donovan, who normally played in the middle for LA, with Robbie Keane up top. The chemistry between Donovan and Keane is so great that separating them should only be done out of necessity. However, if needed, players like Pat Noonan and Edson Buddle can fill in when they are healthy.
LA Galaxy homegrown players Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal are also viable options at forward. In fact, the 18-year-old Villarreal has only played in six MLS matches but has become a fan favorite after scoring a late equalizer against the Vancouver Whitecaps, earning him MLS Goal of the Week.
One weakness of all the depth that LA now has is the youth and inexperience that many players possess. Several of the Galaxy’s key bench players have very little CCL experience. Gaul, Villarreal, Jimenez and McBean are all young and may not be able to handle hostile environments on the road.
A 4-0 victory doesn't sound like much against a team coming from the North American Soccer League, but what’s surprising is that Arena sent out what was essentially a team of reserves. Not a single player from the team’s current starting XI started in that match.
The Galaxy currently sit atop Group 5 with six points and two games remaining. Wednesday’s away leg against the Islanders will once again test LA’s youngsters and other bench players since Beckham, Keane, Gonzalez, Franklin, Saunders and Magee all did not travel.
With the Galaxy feeling immense pressure to perform in both the CCL and MLS, their quality roster depth is crucial to success. Not many MLS teams have the luxury of sending out rested players three times a week and still being able to compete at a high level.
The Galaxy seem to be in a good position to go far in the CCL and be a serious MLS Cup threat at the same time. Hopefully, the team can live up to expectations and represent MLS and American soccer in the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup.