In a soccer world in which honest answers are in sadly short supply — check with FIFA’s executive committee for countless examples — it’s always a bonus when someone steps up and tells the truth.
The question on this occasion was simple: What is it that the Galaxy is missing? Why did the team reach Major League Soccer’s final in 2009 and its Western Conference final in 2010 only to come up short each time?
According to some, the lack of a second reliable goal-scorer to play alongside Edson Buddle was the cause. Landon Donovan said that’s what he would add to the Galaxy’s roster in 2011.
“Someone that takes more pressure off of us offensively,” Donovan said. “Edson had to carry a lot of the burden this year. Having another player that teams are really worried about would be very helpful.”
Midfielder Chris Klein agreed. “We need someone else to put the ball in the net,” he said.
According to others, the lack of a truly creative midfield playmaker was the reason for failing to win a third MLS title.
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts’ personal wish list was summed up in just 11 words. “I would add more consistent performances by myself and other players,” he said.
Defender Todd Dunivant said it is all about needing to maintain possession better.
“We were good on the counterattack and obviously had a good defensive record, but as a team we need to do a better job of keeping the ball and going forward,” he said.
Cobi Jones begs to differ with all those opinions.
The man who has played more games for the U.S. national team than any other, the man who has been with the Galaxy since it first stepped onto the Rose Bowl field in 1996, the man who is an assistant to coach Bruce Arena, thinks the problem lies elsewhere.
“I don’t think any additions are really needed to the team. I think maybe it’s getting that final killer instinct just to finish off games,” Jones said.
“We’ve had some mental lapses, giving up goals at inopportune times. That kind of feeds into that whole philosophy about being mentally tough through the full 90 minutes of a game as well as through the full season.
“It’s great to be on top [with the best regular-season record] but when it comes down to it, it’s that recognition that, ‘OK, now you’re in the playoffs, it’s a one-off game, someone that’s at the bottom of the table could come through and surprise you.’ You don’t have time to be lax at that point.
“So I think right now this team has to be more mentally prepared for next season and everything that’s coming up.”
So, how is that accomplished?
“Expect more discipline from the players in practice. Test the limits of the players sometimes during training,” Jones said. “These are all things that I’m sure we’ll look at as a staff to determine what’s needed going forward.”
Dave Sarachan is another of the Galaxy’s assistants, having previously been coach of the Chicago Fire and assistant coach under Arena on the 2002 U.S. World Cup team, on which Jones starred.
Sarachan has another take on what the Galaxy is missing.
“When you build a team there’s a balance between veteran experience and youth,” he said. “This year, maybe we were tipped a little bit at the end of the year with some older legs. As we now look forward, I would say we need to get a little quicker in spots.
“Obviously, the Dallas game [a 3-0 loss in the conference final] had its own issues, but in the broad strokes of it we were a little bit out-quicked and out-youthed.”
Sarachan’s delightful invention of new words notwithstanding, he has a point. The Galaxy had seven players of 33 or older on its 24-man roster. Any more and they’d have been distributing canes and walkers.
“Speed and quickness and a little bit of youth in key positions are going to be important for us,” Sarachan said of the 2011 season. “I’ve always been of the philosophy that you can never have enough strikers and I think for sure we would target another front-runner.”
But simply adding another goal scorer is unlikely to be enough in a league that will grow to 18 teams next season with the addition of the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Finding a killer instinct, as Jones said, will be equally important for the Galaxy.