Los Angeles Galaxy 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

Eduardo Mendez@@Mendez_FCCorrespondent IIMarch 3, 2014

Los Angeles Galaxy 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    Omar Gonzalez's involvement in the summer transfer window will be the Los Angeles Galaxy's story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete the team's season preview?

    In part 15 of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Galaxy this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.

    Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.

    Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.

Offseason Transactions

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.

    Players In:

    MBaggio HusidicFree Transfer
    FSamuelLoan from Fluminense
    FRob FriendFree Transfer
    MStefan IshizakiFree Transfer
    FBradford JamiesonHomegrown
    FRaul MendiolaHomegrown

    Players Out:

    MColin ClarkOption Declined
    MLaurent CourtoisOption Declined
    DSean FranklinOption Declined
    MMichael StephensOut of Contract
    GKCarlo CudiciniContrat Terminated
    MPablo MastroeniRetired
    FJose VillarrealLoaned to Cruz Azul
    MHector JimenezTraded to Columbus
    MKyle NakazawaRetired
    DBryan GaulWaived

The Story to Watch: Summer Transfer Window Drama

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    He's been rumored to transfer overseas for two years running, but will he finally take the leap in 2014?

    Technically, Omar Gonzalez is no stranger to European football. The 25-year-old suffered a torn ACL in his first training session with German outfit FC Nurnburg. What was intended to be a short-term loan spell was shorter than Leroy Rosenior's tenure with Torquay United FC.

    But with all that disappointment behind him, Gonzalez returned to the Galaxy and became a key cog in the club's championship runs during the 2011 and 2012 season. It culminated in an MLS MVP at the end of David Beckham's swan song. With an incredible run of form and such a promising career ahead of him, Los Angeles did the unthinkable and signed the center-back to a designated player contract.

    Head coach Bruce Arena beamed brighter than a proud father at the club's official press conference for the announcement:

    We are pleased that Omar will remain with the Galaxy. In the past five years, he has arguably developed in to the top defender in MLS. I believe he can continue to grow as a player and leader of our team.

    The question is: Will he be there long enough for that to happen?

    The signing of Gonzalez to a designated player contract doesn't ensure his future is with the Galaxy. All it ensures is his value will increase in the open market during the upcoming summer transfer window. An impressive showing at the 2014 World Cup for the U.S. men's national team will only multiply his price tag. 

    During MLS Media Day, Gonzalez remained adamant in his excitement to stay and help grow the game in America.

    But he hasn't entirely ruled out a move to Europe:

    I think the attraction is still there [Europe] but I don't think it's as strong. I think most players see the same thing I do, that this league is better. Sure, if I get a better option, I would want to go to Europe. But I wouldn't do it for a mid-table team. I'd rather stay here and get better.

    Gonzalez has shown he has the capability to play above mid-table talent. His 99 headed duels ranked sixth in MLS and his 354 defensive actions placed in the top 10 among MLS defenders. Gonzalez, however, was the only defender to feature in less than 30 matches in each of those rankings.

    His appearance with the USMNT in Brazil this summer will ensure his playing time lessens for the Galaxy, but it might dissipate entirely if Gonzalez plays himself to an opportunity in Europe too grand to pass up.

The Number to Watch: 135

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    He's just one away.

    Barring a catastrophic injury or tragedy, Jeff Cunningham's status as the all-time goalscoring leader in MLS history will fall. His 134 goals have already been matched by 13-year MLS veteran Landon Donovan. He's now just one goal away from usurping Cunningham and becoming the most prolific goalscorer in MLS history.

    It'll just have to come from the midfield.

    A gluttonous amount of forwards currently occupy space on the Galaxy roster for 2014. The usual suspects of Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Jack McBean have been joined by offseason acquisitions Samuel and Rob Friend. Homegrown signings Bradford Jamieson and Raul Mendiola round out Los Angeles's abundance of attacking power.

    As he told Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano on the club's official website, Donovan will play where he's needed in 2014:

    I can play wherever I'm needed. But it would be nice to have some other guys take some pressure off. Those guys seem eager and hungry to make an impact. I think when you look at some of the qualities we have on our team you would expect that I would play at midfield to some extent. But if there's times in the year I play forward that's fine too.

    As Serrano points out, Donovan made seven starts for the Galaxy out wide in 2013 and previously played on the wing for the U.S. men's national team. In a 2-1 preseason victory over Armenian outfit FC Shirak, the 31-year-old featured primarily out on the left flank.

    So, no, this isn't uncharted territory for the American legend.

    Being the only man to carry the illustrious 135 as his badge of honor, however, will be.

    Honorable Mention

    Only 40 percent of Gyasi Zardes's 83 total shots were on target in 2013. That low percentage is even more baffling considering 67 of his shots came from inside the area. Out of 34 MLS forwards who appeared in at least 25 matches last season, Zardes's percentage ranked 26th.

    Let's try and get that up in 2014, Gyasi. At least for your club's sake. 

The Player to Watch: Stefan Ishizaki

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    The Galaxy remain desperate for attacking prowess on the wing, so much so that the club opted to trade away the eventual 2013 MLS MVP in exchange for the rights to wide midfielder Robbie Rogers.

    As historic as the acquisition was, Rogers finished with just seven starts and one assist in 2013. An entire offseason to return to fitness and re-acclimate himself to the professional game will do wonders for the 26-year-old. The Galaxy will need more than the 13 total chances he created last season.

    Expect a little extra to come from foreign wide midfielder Stefan Ishizaki.

    The 31-year-old Swedish international signed with the Galaxy in late January, leaving his native land behind. Favoring the right side, Ishizaki completed 79 percent of his passes and created 17 total chances in five Europa League appearances last year.

    Coupled with his lethally accurate foot is a championship pedigree and a hunger to win.

    Ishizaki made that more apparent to Larry Morgan on the club's official website:

    As soon as I heard LA was interested I was interested, too, because I was with my old club for eight years and felt I needed something new. And I thought this was a really exciting opportunity for me...I'm getting used to it. The quality of some players here is just amazing, like Robbie, Landon [Donovan], Omar [Gonzalez] and a couple of other guys. Their vision is incredible. I'm fortunate to get to be able to play with those guys...I didn't move to L.A. to just play. I'm here to win.

    If all goes according to plan, he'll be bringing more than depth and experience to the four-time MLS Cup champions.

The Match to Watch: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Club Tijuana

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    Technically, this is cheating.

    You should be reading a preview of an epic clash featuring the Galaxy and another MLS side. If you feel slighted that it's not, turn to any of the three California Clasicos scheduled for 2014. If that doesn't quench your insatiable thirst, look no further than the season opener against the same Real Salt Lake that eliminated Los Angeles from the postseason in 2013.

    But this is a battle of the border.

    Just four days after their first competitive match in four months, the Galaxy will host the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Club Tijuana. This clash between MLS and Liga MX powers carries a local narrative that only enhances its allure.

    The two have sparred in recent years over talent developing near their borders. Paul Arriola—a former Galaxy Academy product—turned down an offer from Los Angeles and instead opted to join Los Xolos in 2013. The 19-year-old has four goals in five Copa MX appearances for Tijuana's sister club Dorados de Sinaloa. 

    To add insult to injury, the Galaxy and the rest of MLS have been losing more than players to Liga MX.

    Since the CCL's reformat in 2009, MLS sides have advance past a Mexican club just once. The Seattle Sounders are the only ones to do so in 2013. They ultimately fell to Santos Laguna in the semifinals. 

    The money and depth of Liga MX is a strength over MLS. But having their clubs in midseason form doesn't help matters, either.

    According to Scott French on MLS's official website, however, Landon Donovan doesn't believe his squad is far behind that same form:

    We're pretty close. Bruce [Arena] has played a lot of us together a lot of minutes in these games, so we're starting to get a good chemistry. I think as a team we're going to gel, and I think the more opportunities we have to get on the field with both Rob [Friend] and Samuel, that will be sort of the final piece that comes.

    But will it be enough to do something only one MLS side has ever done?

    Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics.

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