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Galaxy facing decisions in off-season retooling

Galaxy facing decisions in off-season retooling
Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, left, and New York City midfielder Andrew Jacobson battle for the ball. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Bad news can sometimes have positive consequences.

Consider the Galaxy, whose elimination in the knockoff round of this fall’s Major League Soccer playoffs marked its shortest postseason run in seven years.

But that also gave the team its longest off-season since 2008. And little of that time has been wasted.

With four designated players to squeeze into three spots, a big hole on the roster at goalkeeper and a number of decisions to make regarding contract options, the past five weeks have been busy for Bruce Arena, the team’s coach and general manager.

"We had to make some tough choices," said Arena, whose team struggled for chemistry and consistency after adding Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos late in the season. "We'll look to re-sign some players that we didn't exercise their options. We'll also negotiate some new contracts with current players.

"We'll have about four or five spots to fill."

Arena said much of that heavy lifting already has been done. But the Galaxy, unlike other MLS teams that have begun releasing their off-season transactions, has kept its moves close to the vest. However, the team must determine each player's status by Monday, when the list of those eligible for free agency and the reentry draft will be made public.

It’s no secret that striker Robbie Keane, as well as Dos Santos and Gerrard, are all under contract and expect to return to the Galaxy — albeit with delayed-price contracts that will pay them at least $4.5 million each next season. And that leaves no salary room for defender Omar Gonzalez, who is due a raise from the $1.45 million he made last year.

Arena was able to sign Dos Santos and buy down enough of Gonzalez's salary to fit it under the league's $3.49 million cap last summer thanks to $500,000 of special allocation money from the league. On Saturday, the MLS Board of Governors is expected to approve the release of more allocation money, which the Galaxy could again spend on Gonzalez.

Another solution would be for the Galaxy to send U.S. national team midfielder Gyasi Zardes to Reading of the English League Championship. Reading Manager Steve Clarke said the team has been tracking the player for some time and is prepared to pay a multimillion-dollar transfer fee for Zardes next month, money the Galaxy also could use on Gonzalez.

Keeping Gonzalez, a World Cup starter in 2014, would alleviate some pressure on a battered back line that gave up 10 goals in its last three games as the Galaxy tumbled from the top of the league table to elimination.

Defenders Robbie Rogers and A.J. DeLaGarza, both of whom limped into the off-season, have had surgery, Rogers for an ankle problem and DeLaGarza for a hernia. Right back Dan Gargan and central defender Leonardo also are rehabbing injuries this off-season but are expected to be healthy by the time the team opens training camp next month.

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The Galaxy's first game, a friendly with FC Shirak, four-time champion of the Armenian Premier League, will be played Jan. 30 at the StubHub Center.

"With some players getting healthy, we're going to be automatically better," Arena said. "Playing with injuries this year wasn't good, especially for Robbie Rogers. It took a lot away from his game. And A.J. as well.

"So those guys are returning."

Unlikely to be back is Donovan Ricketts, a two-time MLS keeper of the year who struggled after a midseason return to the Galaxy, allowing 21 goals in 12 games. Ricketts was acquired in a July trade with Orlando City after the Galaxy released Jaime Penedo over a contract dispute.

The Galaxy has talked to FC Dallas about Dan Kennedy, who remains under contract but has lost his starting job to 20-year-old Jesse Gonzalez. Long a favorite of Arena’s, Kennedy, 33, is due more than $233,000 next year, likely making him too expensive to keep in Dallas as a backup.

Arena also will have to decide what to do in the midfield, where he has four players — Juninho, Sebastian Lletget, Baggio Husidic and Ignacio Maganto — for what could be as few as two spots.

The Galaxy have a contract option on Juninho, and the player's agent said his client would like to return to the Galaxy. But the agent said he still plans to investigate overseas options.

“We’ve got to get our team better. But I’m pretty confident in the group that’s returning,” Arena said. “We’ve just got to get them figured out a little bit better. And if we can do that, we’ll be a team that will challenge for the MLS Cup.”

Also challenging is dealing with the league's Byzantine and oft-changing roster rules, which this year will include free agency for the first time.

"It's very hard to have any kind of continuity because of the lack of understanding what you can do over a three- or five-year period. And also dealing with a salary cap," Arena said. "Every year you lose players for a variety of reasons. And it makes it a little bit difficult.

"So that's all part of the process as well. We've got to accept that until it changes."

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