The Galaxy celebrated Saturday's MLS Cup victory deep into Sunday morning. But when Coach Bruce Arena and Tim Leiweke, the team's chief executive, awoke later that day, the countless champagne toasts weren't the only things that had their heads spinning.
Because after winning consecutive league titles with David Beckham and Landon Donovan, the team must now figure out a way to win without one and possibly both players.
"There's little doubt in my mind that we're going to have some transition here," said Leiweke, president of AEG, the global sports and entertainment company that owns the Galaxy. "We'll play it out, see what happens. But you make good decisions by being prepared."
Which is why Leiweke and Arena began talking over off-season scenarios even before the Galaxy began its victorious playoff run. They started preparing for Beckham's MLS retirement during the summer, weeks before it was announced publicly. What Donovan will do is less certain; the player, who has a year left on his contract, says he doesn't know whether he'll play next season.
That leaves the team with one, maybe two, designated player spots — exemptions to the league's frugal salary cap that allow teams to sign big-name stars to MLS contracts — and Leiweke has been hard at work on filling those. Last month, the Galaxy was in talks with former FIFA world player of the year Ronaldinho, but last week the 32-year-old signed a contract extension with his Brazilian club, Atletico Mineiro. So Leiweke has turned his attention to Kaka, another former world player of the year from Brazil who currently plays for Real Madrid.
Chelsea's Frank Lampard has also reached out to the Galaxy, but Leiweke said the team's new contract with Time Warner Cable and its Spanish-language channel make the signing of a Latin American player a priority.
"Look, if Wayne Rooney wants to come, we'll make an exception. But the reality for us right now, our thinking, is … iconic players that have a special relationship with the Hispanic community," he said.
The Galaxy's third designated player, striker Robbie Keane, is under contract for two more seasons with an option that could keep him here through 2015. But squeezing the rest of the roster within the league's complicated salary budget of roughly $4 million for next season will be tough.
Midfielders Mike Magee and Juninho — on loan from Sao Paulo — will be out of contract at the end of the year, as will goalkeeper Josh Saunders, whose future with the team is further clouded by the Galaxy's interest in trading for Chivas USA keeper Dan Kennedy.
The entire backline of Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin is signed for another year, although the team expects Gonzalez, the MLS Cup most valuable player, to draw loan interest from several European clubs. Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas and forward Edson Buddle are also signed, and midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson has an option for next season that may prove too expensive for the Galaxy to pick up. Unlike other pro leagues, MLS' strict salary rules do not allow teams to pay a tax for violating the payroll cap.
"My guess is we're going to have a lot of questions," Arena said. "It's never smooth, although you'd like it to be. There's always another issue that comes along and makes things difficult. And I'm sure we're going to have it again this year."
The Galaxy will hold a public victory celebration Monday at 7 p.m. in the Home Depot Center's tennis stadium. The entire roster, including Beckham and Donovan, is expected to participate.