A week after selling defender Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Juninho to Mexican clubs, the Galaxy appears close to filling one of those vacant roster spots with former English national team defender Ashley Cole.
Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach and general manager, declined Monday to discuss the Cole talks in detail but did say that media speculation about negotiations between the club and player “is fairly accurate.”
A formal announcement of the signing “is close,” a Galaxy official said, and a deal could be reached even before European transfer windows begin to open on Saturday. Cole last played in March for Italian club Roma, which also refused to discuss the player’s status with the team or negotiations with the Galaxy.
Cole might not be the only player the Galaxy pulls through the transfer window before training camp opens next month.
“I would anticipate that we’ll add three or four players to our roster,” said Arena, who this month landed a new goalkeeper in Dan Kennedy in a trade with FC Dallas and remains hopeful of re-signing national team forward Alan Gordon.
Yet the addition of Cole on a free transfer would be a curious one for the Galaxy. Although the team needs help on the back line, Gonzalez’s departure leaves it weakest at center back while Cole’s best position is on the left wing. Arena is already set there with Robbie Rogers – who underwent offseason ankle surgery – having turned himself into one of Major League Soccer’s best since moving from the midfield two seasons ago.
Acquiring Cole could push Rogers across the field to right back, allowing A.J. de la Garza to replace Gonzalez in the middle.
Cole’s age – he’s 35 – also makes him a strange fit since he would be joining two other 35-year-old starters in Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard. Fitness could be a concern too since Cole has played just 14 games since moving from English club Chelsea to Roma on a two-year deal in the summer of 2014.
Then there’s the money. Since the Galaxy doesn’t have an open designated player spot, it would have to spend most – if not all – of the $800,000 in targeted allocated money it will receive from the league to sign Cole, squandering the salary flexibility it won from the sales of Gonzalez and Juninho.
But Cole -- a former England player of the year who made three World Cup teams and had 107 appearances with the English national team, a record for a defender -- would bring a big name and a sterling resume to a club that relishes both.
Cole, who made nearly 600 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea and Arsenal, winning three league titles and a Champions League crown in 14 seasons, has also drawn interest from Aston Villa of the EPL. But the Galaxy has reportedly been the most aggressive suitor.
“There are a lot of factors on why players come to our team as opposed to others,” said Arena, who wooed Gerrard and Mexican star Giovani dos Santos to Southern California last season. “The Galaxy have a good reputation. Our players from Europe that have played here or are playing here are good spokespersons for our club.”
Arena admitted the losses of Gonzalez and Juninho will sting since both were key performers on the Galaxy’s last three MLS Cup championship teams. But without another DP slot, even with the additional $800,000 in allocation money it would have been difficult to keep both players and remain under the league’s salary cap, which will grow just slightly from the $3.49 million teams could spend in 2015.
Gonzalez and Juninho earned base salaries that totaled $1.55 million combined last season, according to figures provided by the players union.
“Given our situation and obvious issues with adherence to salary cap and all the regulations, we were going to have to transfer a player or two players,” Arena said. “And that’s the way it worked out.”
The Galaxy struggled down the stretch last season, entering October with the league’s best record before giving up 10 goals in three consecutive losses en route to a first-round playoff exit, its earliest since 2008. Yet despite the departure of Gonzalez, Arena is confident the trade for Kennedy and additional moves he has planned will keep the team competitive.
“We’re going to feel comfortable about our backline and goalkeeping,” he said. “With some of the other moves we’re going to have before camp starts, we’re going to show that we’re going to be stronger in our attacking positions as well.”
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