Arena Has Galaxy Headed in the Right Direction

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Los Angeles Galaxy's 2009 story line began with David Beckham because, despite being absent the first half of the season, he was still the most famous and handsomely compensated player in MLS. The theme also included Landon Donovan, the swift and clever attacker who bedeviled defenders like no other American player.

It contained the club's failure to make the playoffs for three straight years, an almost impossibility in a league without superpowers and a generous postseason plan.

A clunky start didn't help to change the plot, and by mid-summer, the topic turned to the delicate dynamic between Beckham and Donovan, thanks to a book in which the Californian questioned the Englishman's leadership.

But with the MLS regular season now entering its final stage, the focus has swung away from past shortcomings and player issues and embraced a familiar figure, Bruce Arena, who has coached the Galaxy back to not only respectability but championship contention.

Los Angeles (8-4-10) is on a 6-1-1 roll in league play, five points out of first place in the Western Conference entering Saturday night's match with D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

In resurrecting the Galaxy, Arena, 57, also has resurrected his career after being dismissed as U.S. national team coach following a winless World Cup in 2006 and lasting only 1 1/2 seasons in his return to MLS with New York.

"I don't think anyone believed this was a gold mine I inherited and I was just going to be polishing the gems all day," he said of the challenges awaiting him when he accepted the Galaxy job late last season. "There was some work to do."

The work has paid off. On the road, Los Angeles is 5-1-6 and unbeaten on its past five trips. It has conceded just 23 goals, fourth fewest in MLS after surrendering an astounding 62 last year.

Beckham and Donovan seem to have settled their differences. Eddie Lewis, Gregg Berhalter and Tony Sanneh, former national team players under Arena, have helped the cause. Jovan Kirovski, Mike Magee, Todd Dunivant and Dema Kovalenko, players not in great demand around the league, have also contributed.

Donovan Ricketts of Jamaica, recruited by Arena to solve the goalkeeping situation, has been consistently good. And while the Galaxy has the league's oldest roster, backline rookies Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza, who joined forces last fall to help Maryland win the NCAA title, have won starting jobs.

"There is finally a consistency, almost a mission statement in the way we want to be, who we are going to be. Everything else has followed," said Donovan, whose 10 goals are tied for second on MLS's scoring chart. "We are getting to a point now where we are not a team I would want to play against, and with a few more weeks playing together and jelling, we're going to be a very good team."

The Galaxy was very good Wednesday at Chicago despite the absence of Beckham and Lewis, who were serving red card suspensions. With Magee scoring midway through the first half and Donovan striking shortly after halftime, Los Angeles won, 2-0.

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