Steven Gerrard’s future with the Galaxy is uncertain
Steven Gerrard had been with the Galaxy all of two weeks when he played his first road game in Houston, where the temperature soared to 102 degrees and the humidity was almost as high.
A week later Gerrard played 90 minutes against the Colorado Rapids in the thin mile-high air outside Denver.
For someone who had never lived anywhere but Liverpool, a port city where the thermometer rarely wanders above 70, it was a rude and painful welcome to Major League Soccer.
“The altitude, the humidity, the heat. You know what you’re getting yourself in for,” said Robbie Keane, the Galaxy’s captain and Gerrard’s one-time teammate in Liverpool. “But until you actually play in Houston in July, no matter how much you have it in your head, it’s still difficult to take.”
Gerrard admitted as much before returning to England last week, after his first season with the Galaxy ended with a first-round playoff loss in Seattle. Whether those bad memories are likely to lead Gerrard to stay home rather than return to MLS next year largely depends on which side of the Atlantic you come from.
Before Gerrard’s red-eye from Los Angeles had even landed in England on Wednesday at least two newspapers, the Echo of Liverpool and the London-based Independent, had written Gerrard would play for his former club on loan this winter. Maybe longer.
New Liverpool Coach Jurgen Klopp and the Galaxy’s Bruce Arena both promised that wouldn’t happen.
“It’s ridiculous,” Arena, who is also the team’s general manager, said of the reports.
As for what Gerrard thinks, that’s anybody’s guess because he hasn’t spoken publicly since leaving the Galaxy locker room following the team’s final game. But that night he did concede his experience in MLS was much more difficult than he had anticipated.
“Playing at altitude, playing in humidity, they are the hurdles that I’ve had to face over the last three months that I wasn’t aware of,” he said. “Every away game’s got a different challenge.”
Like artificial turf in Seattle. Or a flight through three time zones to reach Kansas City.
In the English Premier League, all the games are played on grass and trips often start at home in the morning and end back home that evening. For Gerrard, the father of three young daughters, that extra time with his family was a perk he lost when he accepted a $9-million, 18-month deal to play in MLS.
“They know before they get here what the challenges are,” a sympathetic Arena said of international players. “But you don’t really understand it until you in the middle of it.”
Yet while the Galaxy has nixed the idea of loan agreement that would allow Gerrard, 35, to play for Liverpool — and if Klopp watched any of Gerrard’s 14 games with the Galaxy, he would know Liverpool’s former captain is no longer an EPL-caliber midfielder — that doesn’t preclude Gerrard from joining the team in another capacity.
“Our doors are always open for him. That is clear,” said Klopp, who has already invited Gerrard to train with the team.
Last month’s sacking of Brendan Rodgers, the coach who refused to guarantee Gerrard a starting spot, may have created the opportunity for a more permanent return. With Klopp now in charge, adding Gerrard to Liverpool’s payroll as an assistant coach or in the front office would restore some lost history to one of the Premier League’s most tradition-bound clubs.
“He’s an absolute legend in Liverpool,” Keane said of Gerrard, who ranks third all-time in appearances and fifth in goals for the Reds. “When you’ve played for a club that long and achieved what he’s achieved … people will talk about it because he’s such an icon.”
Gerrard was openly discussing a return to Liverpool even before he left last spring. And he made one trip home during the summer, leaving the Galaxy to return to England to do TV commentary on the Champions League.
Yet unless Arena budges, returning permanently to England probably would require Gerrard to retire as a player, forfeiting the final $6 million on his MLS contract.
That might not be a bad deal for the Galaxy, which could use the money to address pressing needs in goal and on the backline while also keeping productive midfielders Juninho and Sebastian Lletget.
Although Gerrard was a workhorse, going the full 90 minutes in the Galaxy’s final 12 games, he had clearly lost a step or three after playing more than 830 games for club and country since 1998.
With the Galaxy, he sometimes appeared uninterested and seemed to disappear for long stretches. Arena, meanwhile, struggled to find a role for him, pushing him forward as an attacker one week then using him as a defensive midfielder the next.
Gerrard didn’t distinguish himself in either spot, collecting just one goal and two assists following his debut before losing his mark in the playoff loss in Seattle, leading to a crucial goal.
But then Gerrard came to MLS just weeks after finishing his final EPL season, one that began on the heels of his final World Cup appearance as captain of the English national team. If he returns to the Galaxy for training camp in January, Arena is confident he’ll do so a little less weary.
And a lot wiser about the challenges of MLS, which could make him the player the Galaxy thought they were getting last summer.
“It’s always easier the second time around, for all the international players,” Arena said.
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