After the best debut season by a midfielder in Galaxy history, no one would have begrudged Romain Alessandrini if he had taken a trip home to France for some relaxation and celebration this winter.
Yet he did neither, staying in Playa Vista where he began working out for the new MLS season before the old one had officially ended.
"I want to be better. I want to win something with the L.A. Galaxy," said Alessandrini, whose team-leading 13 goals and 12 assists were the only bright spots in the worst season in franchise history.
"So I have to prepare myself. I have to give more."
That's probably a wise approach since Alessandrini will have a target on his back this season. The second season in the MLS has proved harder than the first one for a number of recent European imports, including Gio dos Santos, Steven Gerrard and Jelle Van Damme.
Dos Santos, who led the Galaxy with 14 goals and 12 assists in his first full season in 2016, had just six goals and three assists last season. Gerrard scored twice in his first 10 MLS games but got just three more in the next 24. Van Damme went from team leader and captain as a freshman to a malcontent and distraction who led the league in red cards as a sophomore before being sent home to Belgium 2½ months early.
"A lot of that is because the opponents now know you," said coach Sigi Schmid, whose team plays it final preseason exhibition Saturday night at the StubHub Center against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Galaxy open the regular season at home on March 4 against the Portland Timbers.
"If you're a key player, they start to game plan for you," Schmid continued. "The first time around … they weren't quite sure what you did."
Alessandrini doesn't plan to change what he does. But he has changed how he prepares to do it.
"He was very dedicated," Schmid said. "Romain is not resting on his laurels from last year. He's not satisfied just saying 'OK, that was a good year.' He wants to constantly improve and constantly get better.
"I'm not worried about him relaxing or becoming complacent."
Still, Alessandrini could have a better season and still see his numbers drop simply because he's surrounded by a better supporting cast. Up front, Ola Kamara, who scored 34 goals the last two years in Columbus, has replaced Gyasi Zardes, who had eight — two last season and six the previous one. In the midfield, the Galaxy are counting on full seasons from Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget, who combined to make just 14 starts a year ago.
They will all take some of the offensive load off Alessandrini's shoulders. So it should be no surprise that four games into the preseason the Galaxy have scored more than twice as often as they had at this point a year ago, yet Alessandrini has neither a goal nor an assist.
"We are a better team than last year. So it will be better for me," he said.
For Alessandrini, 28, both the dedication and the performance are something of a big thank-you note. Last winter the Galaxy and MLS offered him a chance at redemption — and a three-year designated-player contract — after he had worn out his welcome at French side Marseille following public spats with two coaches and the team's passionate fans.
Although he struggled with homesickness, the rigors of MLS travel and the altitude in Colorado and Salt Lake City, he eventually made himself at home — so much so that he and his girlfriend Fiona had their daughter in Southern California last August.
"This year I will be focused on my job," he said. "I feel more comfortable."
Yvan Le Mee, Alessandrini's agent, said his client said the same thing earlier this winter.
"Romain told me, 'I have my project. I want to stay in America because I love that. I love the city. I love the people,' " Le Mee said. "It's difficult when you are [new] to the league to know the level of football, the way to play. The training is different, the preparation is different. So many things are different.
"Now we know everything about that. So for sure it will be easier for him."
Easier? After an offseason of mind-numbing workouts, Alessandrini isn't so sure that's the right word. But better? Sure.
"I think I'm a good player. But I want to be better," he said. "After one year … I have to be better."