The Galaxy finished its off-season work at about the same time it was kicking off its preseason schedule Saturday, completing a deal for Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong just a couple of hours before limping past Armenian club FC Shirak, 2-1, in its first exhibition of the winter.
The Galaxy declined to discuss De Jong’s status on the record, but a person with knowledge of the talks confirmed the signing. And the addition of De Jong, a physical midfielder who played in the 2010 World Cup final, completes a busy five days for Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach and general manager.
Earlier in the week the team announced the acquisitions of former English national team defender Ashley Cole, 35, from Italy’s Roma and defender Jelle Van Damme, 32, from Belgium’s Standard Liege. Both players come to the Galaxy on free transfers, as will De Jong, 31, who negotiated a release from the final 21/2 years of his contract with Italy’s AC Milan.
All three players are expected in Southern California this week.
Terms of De Jong’s contract were not released, but it is believed to be a one-year deal worth less than $1 million, financed partly through targeted allocation money from the league. There is also the possibility of lucrative options for the next two seasons, with De Jong assuming the designated player spot Steven Gerrard surrenders at the end of the year.
The Galaxy also declined to discuss salary figures for Cole and Van Damme, but a team official familiar with the contracts said the team spent less than $1.7 million combined to sign the trio.
The Galaxy has added nine players since mid-December, including goalkeeper Dan Kennedy; forward Mike Magee, a former league MVP; midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, a former MLS All-Star; and Cole, who played more games at left back for the English national team than any man in history. But De Jong is clearly the biggest prize.
After losing midfielder Juninho and defender Omar Gonzalez to the Mexican league last month, the Galaxy needed a bruising presence in the middle of the field. And they got one in De Jong, who, during a 14-year career spent in four countries, earned a reputation as one of the world’s roughest players. (Among his infamous attacks was a studs-up kick to the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the first half of the 2010 World Cup final.)
The need for a player like De Jong was obvious in the Galaxy’s shaky defensive performance Saturday, with Kennedy sprinting off his line three times to break up Shirak scoring chances in a scoreless first half.
Arena went with a different lineup in the second half and that paid off with two goals from Jose Villarreal, with the game-winner coming in the 80th minute.
“I thought it was a very good effort by our team,” Arena said. “Very good for our fitness. Good for getting back and playing together. Good for evaluating players.
“Overall the 90 minutes was real good for us and we got a lot out of it.”
One player who left an strong impression was Villarrel, who played just 16 games in an injury-plagued 2015.
“He’s a good player. He’s a player that we think has a future with the Galaxy,” Arena said of Villarreal. “We keep pushing him every year. Last year was a difficult year for him. We’re hopeful he can stay healthy and get some experience this year.”
Said Villarreal: “That year’s gone. I’m not thinking about what happened last year. Just trying to do what’s best for the team this year. Whatever I can do to help, I’ll do it.”