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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Chivas USA needs a makeover; Galaxy needs a goal

The local MLS teams enter the off-season requiring changes large and small. Chivas is without a coach and also seems to be lacking direction; the Galaxy must find motivation for another title run.

November 24, 2009|By Grahame L. Jones

Reporting from Seattle — The 2009 Major League Soccer season has been inked into the record books, the final entry written in the claret red, cobalt blue and real gold colors of new champion Real Salt Lake.

For the Galaxy and Chivas USA, meanwhile, the time has come to look ahead, not back.

The year ended in frustration for Chivas USA, which is in the hunt for a new coach. Preki's departure this month to take charge of Toronto FC was understandable. He had taken Chivas to the playoffs in each of his three years but had failed to get it past the first round each time.

A lack of talent in certain key positions on the field and a lack of either financial ability or true commitment by Chivas USA's management and ownership to address those shortcomings left Preki with little option. He had done all he could with the resources he had. It was time to move on.

Ever since it was founded in 2005, there has been a sense that Chivas USA is operating on a shoestring, using smoke and mirrors to get by. The club seems to be missing a true identity or a direction. It is not a formula for long-term success in MLS.

For long stretches of its brief history, it has played better soccer than its Home Depot Center neighbor, but the Galaxy has always seemed the more secure, the more permanent side.

Two names have been mentioned as strong contenders for Chivas USA's coaching job: former Galaxy and U.S. national team coach Steve Sampson and former U.S. and Mexico national team player Martin Vasquez.

No matter who gets the position, a complete makeover of the team is necessary. Coach Bruce Arena did it with the Galaxy in 2009, and the new Chivas coach will have to follow suit.

All 15 MLS clubs have until noon Pacific time Tuesday to decide which 11 players they will protect and which they will leave exposed to Wednesday's expansion draft that will help stock the Philadelphia Union, which begins league play in March.

Without a coach in place, it is unclear who will be making those decisions for Chivas.

Not that they will be difficult. Several Chivas veterans are likely to call it a career, and they could include defender Claudio Suarez, midfielder Jesse Marsch and forward Ante Razov.

If that happens, here are the 11 who should be protected, with everyone else expendable: Zach Thornton, Dan Kennedy, Jonathan Bornstein, Paulo Nagamura, Sacha Kljestan, Marcelo Saragosa, Michael Lahoud, Shavar Thomas, Maykel Galindo, Mariano Trujillo and Yamith Cuesta.

Over at the Galaxy, the charter flight back from Seattle brought with it a lot of unhappy players and coaches. Losing an MLS Cup final is bad enough. Losing one on penalty kicks is gut-wrenching.

But with Arena and his staff in place and with the team rebuilt from top to bottom in 2009, there isn't much heavy lifting to do in 2010 other than to add some sparkle in midfield and to find a couple of true goal-scorers.

Landon Donovan's focus will be on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. David Beckham will be playing for AC Milan and then possibly also heading for South Africa, too. Either way, Beckham won't be back with the Galaxy until July at the earliest.

Arena needs to find some front-runners who can put the ball in the net with regularity. Alan Gordon (three goals in 22 games in 2009) and Edson Buddle (five goals in 19 games in 2009) have passed their sell-by date. There are better strikers out there.

The 11 Galaxy players to protect? How about Donovan Ricketts, Josh Saunders, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin, Todd Dunivant, David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, Chris Klein and Dema Kovalenko?

The Galaxy's main problem in 2010 is going to be motivation. The players bought into Arena's system, came together as a team and came within a couple of missed penalty kicks of winning it all.

Having come that close to the summit, the mental energy needed to start the climb all over again just might not be there.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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