Close Up: Los Angeles Galaxy Year In Review

The Los Angeles Galaxy may have been the most high-profile club in Major League Soccer thanks to David Beckham, but that didn't guarantee a winning season in 2008. Far from it.
By Andrea Canales

Few could have imagined that the 2008 Galaxy squad could fly so high at times and yet ultimately, be brought back down to earth with a thud by their terrible defense. Landon Donovan won the Golden Boot and David Beckham registered ten assists, but ultimately, that couldn't get the Los Angeles team to the playoffs, as they finished instead in a joint tie for last place in the league.

It seemed like an ideal scenario as the season began. David Beckham was healthy and Landon Donovan was in fine scoring form. Major League Soccer's championship final was scheduled to be played in the team's backyard, the Home Depot Stadium.

Yet Dutch coach Ruud Gullit had trouble making all the pieces fit together on a consistent basis. The midfield and the defense of the team seemed especially shaky. It didn't seem to help when Gullit continually tinkered with player combinations.

 The fans still turned out in impressive numbers to scream encouragment at Beckham and his teammates, but too often, they left games disappointed with another defeat.  As losses piled up, the finger-pointing began, with departing defender Abel Xavier accusing Gullit of favoritism and a lack of professionalism.

The Galaxy's losing streak led to a shake-up from the team's owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group. Tim Leiweke, the CEO, fired huckster general manager Alexi Lalas. Gullit tendered his resignation.

Under new coach and general manager, Bruce Arena, the Galaxy affected a rally of sorts, but ultimately, fell short of the playoffs for the third year in a row. charted the fortunes of the club on a month by month basis.

January: The Galaxy announced the signing of former striker Carlos Ruiz from FC Dallas. The Guatemalan striker had led the Galaxy to the championship in 2002, but was traded away in early 2005. Los Angeles hoped that the experienced forward could overcome injuries to perform well for the club. David Beckham spent the offseason training with Arsenal in England to maintain his fitness, yet was not called in for international duty by Fabio Capello at this time.

February: The Galaxy participated in the inaugural Pan-Pacific tournament, losing to Japanese club Gamba Osaka, but recovering to claim third place in the tournament with a win over Sydney FC. Beckham notched a pair of assists in the tournament.

March: Capello brought Beckham in for a match versus France. Beckham earned his 100th international cap (appearance) for England in the 1-0 defeat. The Galaxy opened the MLS season poorly, losing 4-0 to the Colorado Rapids, and losing forward Carlos Ruiz for two months when a tackle by a Colorado player results in torn knee ligaments. (Record: 0 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss)

April: The Galaxy recorded their first win of the season over the resurrected San Jose Earthquakes. The Galaxy's European coach, Ruud Gullit, put in place a free-flowing offense that produced numerous goals, but leaked like a sieve on the other end. Toronto stunned the Galaxy by nipping a win late in a game, though the LA squad recovered to defeat derby rivals Chivas USA. (Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss)

May: Beckham blasted a freekick to bring LA level versus Utah, but the Galaxy managed only a draw in the game. They then gave up a goal to New York only seconds after scoring their own. However, these stumbles seemed to be overcome when the team demolished FC Dallas 4-1. But then Injuries (to Landon Donovan) and international absences took a toll. Without their two main stars, the Galaxy were eliminated from Open Cup competition. Beckham joined England again for a set of friendlies, helping the squad defeat the U.S. team. (Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss)

June: At this point, the Galaxy were perhaps in their best form, taking the lead in their conference after wins over Colorado and the Earthquakes. But Columbus stormed to a late tie and then the heat of DC utterly wilted the Galaxy as their defense continued to suffer. With a young goalkeeper, Steve Cronin, in the nets, perhaps defensive errors were inevitable. Yet at times the most dependable player in the backline that protected Cronin was a rookie straight out of college, Sean Franklin. (Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss)

July: The wheels started to come off the Galaxy bus at this point, the month where they went winless. The Revs landed the first punch, then the Galaxy managed to tie Chivas USA and New York, but then lost very badly to Dallas, which scored four goals and blanked the Galaxy. Amid a barrage of bitter parting words, defender Abel Xavier left the club, accusing Guillit of lacking respect for his players.The Argentine Eduardo Dominguez joined the squad at this point, but he failed to have any positive impact. (Record: 0 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses)

August: After losing to the San Jose Earthquakes, Gullit resigned his position as coach. Leiweke decided to make a clean sweep of things, firing general manager Alexi Lalas. Cobi Jones coached for a single game, a draw versus Chivas USA, but with Bruce Arena observing from a luxury box, it seemed clear where the Galaxy's future lay. Arena didn't debut with a win, however. The addition of U.S. international Eddie Lewis seemed to bolster the squad and they managed a draw in their next match. Carlos Ruiz, little-used at this point, was traded to Toronto. (Record: 0 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses)

September: Another loss and draw would go by before Arena would notch a win as coach, against his former team DC United. But the Chicago Fire were not so easily pushed aside, defeating the Galaxy again. It didn't help matters that four Galaxy players, including David Beckham, missed MLS action on behalf of their national teams. (Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses)

October: On the brink of elimination from the playoff race, the Galaxy crumbled against Columbus, scraped out a win versus Colorado, but finally succumbed in a loss to Houston, making their final match, a draw versus Dallas, meaningless for anything except the Golden Boot award, which Donovan claimed with 20 goals. Beckham failed to win any of the league's seasonal awards, but he did arrange an offseason loan move to Italy's AC Milan.. Defender Greg Vanney announced his retirement after the Dallas game. (Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 2 losses)

November: Though the MLS Final was held in the Galaxy's home stadium, neither Donovan or Beckham were on hand for the event. Franklin won MLS Rookie of the Year honors. The Galaxy reacquired forward Jovan Kirovski, a former youth teammate of Beckham's. Pete Vagenas, the last player left on the squad from the 2002 championship team, was taken by Seattle in the expansion draft. Donovan trialed with Germany's Bayern Munich, garnering a loan invitation for the winter.

December: A quick tour to New Zealand saw Beckham playing more centrally in a Galaxy win. Donovan did not participate in the tour, fueling speculation that a permanent move to Europe was in the works. Similar rumors surrounded Beckham as he proclaimed himself proud to be a Milan player. The Galaxy acquired Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.

Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of USA