You can call the Galaxy a lot of things. Just don’t call them cheap.
Management bristles at the mere whisper of the word.
Sure, they concede, the team that will open the new season against FC Dallas on Saturday at the StubHub Center (1 p.m., Univision) will be younger, faster and, yes, less expensive than the one that washed out of conference semifinals last November in Colorado.
But it isn’t so much what you spend as it is what you buy that determines success in MLS. And AEG, the sports and entertainment giant that owns the Galaxy, insists it isn’t spending less, it’s just spending differently.
“I see it as we have a lot of different tools that we can utilize to build the team,” said Dan Beckerman, AEG’s president and CEO. “And we want to use all of them.
“I see it as just the natural evolution of a philosophy that we’ve always had.”
That theory of evolution will be solely tested this year, given the tumultuous offseason exodus that preceded it.
Coach Bruce Arena, who won three MLS Cups with the Galaxy and five league titles overall, was the first to leave, returning to the U.S. national team in December. A month later he took the entire coaching staff with him.
Next came a roster housecleaning, one that swept away nine veteran players and more than $11 million in salary.
Aging designated players Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane, both 36, limped off to be replaced by Romain Alessandrini, 27, and Joao Pedro, 23. Also exiting were Mike Magee, Alan Gordon, Landon Donovan and A.J. DeLaGarza, all of whom played in more than 200 MLS games
In their place the Galaxy will field a team that includes seven players who have never appeared in a league game — and six others who have played in fewer than 20. The average age on the 26-man roster is 25.7, one of the youngest in MLS.
Salaries are down, too, with the team putting the opening-day payroll at $13.5 million, about $5 million less than it spent last year when its season ended with an early playoff exit for the second year in a row.
“Going out early is never going to be acceptable,” Beckerman said. “And trying the same thing that didn’t succeed in the year before is not the recipe to get to where we expect and want to be.”
Under the old approach the Galaxy spent lavishly, creating the designated–player rule when they gave David Beckham $6.5 million in 2007, then making Keane, Donovan and Gerrard among the league’s top-paid players in subsequent seasons.
They’ll start this season paying designated players Alessandrini, Gio dos Santos and Jelle Van Damme $8.1 million combined. But they’ll also spend $4 million on youth development — only four other MLS teams invest as much — and they have $1.2 million in targeted allocation money (TAM) from the league to spend as well. Some of that will go to augment the salaries of Pedro, Zardes and newcomer Jermaine Jones.
“Our belief,” Beckerman said “is the way you succeed is you have a commitment to your development program and your young players, you invest in scouting and you wisely spend TAM money. And you have DPs that can impact your team on the field.
“It’s a three-legged stool. If you look at our roster, you have it balanced across all three of those.”
That balance can shift, though. Currently it leans heavily toward players the Galaxy produced internally, with 12 of the 26 players coming out of the academy or Galaxy II system. Curt Onalfo, who replaced Arena, also coached in the youth system, as did his three assistants.
But that balance could lean the other way in midseason if the Galaxy land a big-name designated player. The team confirmed it has already made a MLS-record contract offer, though it won’t identify the target or the price. Conflicting reports out of Europe have tied the Galaxy to Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bayer Leverkusen’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, either one of whom would command more than the $7.1 million Orlando City is paying Kaka, currently the league’s highest-paid player
“We remain interested in a third DP,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “I won’t comment on any names.”