Galaxy rookies face tough challenge of making squad for defending champions

By OMAR SHAMOUT

It’s hard for any rookie to find their role on a new team, but joining the back-to-back MLS Cup champions is an even tougher hurdle. Luckily for the LA Galaxy’s three MLS SuperDraft selections, key personnel changes have opened the door for them to claim a spot in head coach Bruce Arena’s squad as full preseason training begins Monday.

6-foot forward Charlie Rugg was selected 19th overall in the first round out of Boston College and is expected to compete for playing time up front and out wide after the departures of Edson Buddle and Christian Wilhelmmson. Rugg scored 28 goals in his Boston College career and was named to the All-ACC First Team in 2012, though knee injuries curtailed his senior season.

Depending on Arena’s positional preferences, he’ll vie for game time against three of the team’s Homegrown players: Jose Villareal, Jack McBean and recent signing Gyasi Zardes. Under the MLS Homegrown Player rule, clubs may sign players who have trained through their Youth Development program without subjecting them to the SuperDraft.

Rugg was nursing a minor groin injury in the training room after camp on Friday, but he said it’s not serious. The 22-year-old wasn’t initially invited to the MLS Combine earlier this month, which he said was a big wake up call that taught him the importance of a consistent work ethic.

“It was a pretty big blow to my confidence,” Rugg said. “It taught me that I haven’t had to work that hard trough my career. My physical abilities have given me a lot of help along the way.”

Rugg said Arena might prefer to play him out wide, which is where he feels most confident right now.

“In college I learned to play as a target forward,” Rugg said. “But I’m more comfortable outside. “

Rugg admitted he’s not the most technically gifted player and has relied heavily on his strength and speed up to this point in his career.

“I’m not going to do 10 scissors and dazzle you with a bunch of moves, but I’m effective.”

The 6-foot, 190-pound target man said he’s eager to work on his passing, touch, and of course, finishing, while learning from veteran stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

“As a young forward you can’t ask for anything more.”

Kofi Opare, 22, is the newest central defender on the roster, selected 24th in the second round of the SuperDraft. Arena announced the same day that Brazilian David Junior Lopes won’t be returning to the squad.

Opare stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds. He started 71 of his 76 games during four seasons as a Michigan Wolverine and tallied six goals and two assists in that span.

The energetic center back said he enjoys using his “attacking heading ability” on set pieces, which is where he got most of his goals at Michigan.

“I want to say 75 percent, maybe 80 percent were off corner kicks and with my head,” Opare said. “I do like to go up for corner kicks, set pieces and try to nick myself a goal … or two,” he laughed.

The Galaxy’s pedigree in turning young defenders into top-notch MLS talent early in their careers should be a huge boost to Opare’s confidence.

“It speaks volumes of the coaching staff here,” Opare said. “Being able to develop defenders – Tommy, Omar, A.J. It definitely gives me hope.”

Though he’s not afraid to use his head in attack, the lean, sinewy defender said he usually tries to influence the game from the back rather than getting forward.

“I like to direct things from the back,” Opare said. “I like to communicate. Some people have referred to me as a cerebral defender where I try to solve problems before they occur.”

The avid Newcastle United fan certainly has the physical attributes to succeed in the league, but knows he’ll need to improve his left foot and distribution to mesh with the Galaxy’s style of play.

“[I’m] trying to get as confident with my left foot as I am with my right foot,” he said. “Also, I’d like to improve on my long-ball abilities, switching point of attack, hitting both diagonal balls to split teams up – especially with the pace we have out wide and up top.”

Midfielder/defender Greg Cochrane was selected 38th overall in the SuperDraft and is a versatile addition to the squad. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound ex-Louisville player will probably battle the Galaxy’s other new Homegrown player, Oscar Sorto, for playing time behind A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant at left back. But it remains to be seen whether Arena intends to use his crossing ability in midfield, which is where he finished his career as a Cardinal.

Cochrane said he’s ready to play in either spot but considers himself a defender first.

“I’m more comfortable on the wing,” Cochrane said. “But if I have to play left mid I’ll play left mid.”

The slight-of-frame Cochrane said his quickness and endurance are his primary attributes and allow him to play both sides of the ball from either position.

“The big thing I pride myself on is my fitness,” Cochrane said. “When I’m on the outside I can run all day, so mentally it wears on the other team if they know I’m going to keep running. That allows me to get behind them, but still recover on defense.”

Cochrane started all 23 games for Louisville last season and finished the year with two assists.

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15 Responses to Galaxy rookies face tough challenge of making squad for defending champions

  1. Peter says:

    Wait, is Rugg 6’2″ or 6′?

  2. Gnarls says:

    “Rugg admitted he’s not the most technically gifted player and has relied heavily on his strength and speed up to this point in his career.”

    We already have one of those. His name is Jack McBean and he’s four years younger.

    • Benny Dargle says:

      McBean has never relied on his speed. Or, to say it otherwise, he doesn’t have any speed. That’s why Rugg is a candidate for outside midfield and no one would ever suggest putting McBean there. You’ve got to have either speed or technical ability or both to play there. Strength alone won’t usually cut it in the 4-4-2 Arena plays.

      Rugg is 6′ Opare is 6’2″

      • Gnarls says:

        I was thinking more about his size and strength attributes. McBean is 6′, 175 lbs. He’s a big target forward, like Rugg.

        • Benny Dargle says:

          True. Rugg just has another aspect to his game, if he can stay healthy. He already has a groin pull, although not a serious one.

  3. Shamout says:

    Rugg is indeed listed as 6’0, not 6’2. Sorry for the confusion.

  4. Joe Dirt says:

    More interested to see Zardes, Villareal, and Raul Mendiola. The others are chop liver.

    Come on we got a 22 yr old centerback that still doesn’t “feel comfortable with his left foot”. Then we have a 22 yr old target forward/wannabe winger tell us he’s “not the most technically gifted”, ie I’ve got a horrible first touch and really only excel at chasing down long balls over the top.

    These are the developmental issues that were talking about when it comes to NCAA soccer. These players should be developing in professional atmosphere’s during the formative 18-22 yrs age range. Wasted four years playing only 3 months of a college season where your amount of practice time is limited by NCAA rules and you and your coach are forbidden to practice outside the NCAA season by their regulations.

    Kids if you want to be a pro, you gotta get on with a MLS academy these days or you and your skills and development will get left behind in NCAA soccer.

    Rugg and Opare will never be heard from.

    Mendiola, Villareal, and Zardes will be stars mark my words. I just hope we get to see them in MLS for a bit before the move to Europe or Liga MX.

    • Gnarls says:

      I agree. I’m a bit more optimistic about the college boys – there have been some solid exceptions to the rule in Omar, AJ, Franklin – but generally speaking, you’re right. If a player is 22 years old and still hasn’t played professionally, the odds are seriously stacked against him that he’ll ever make it beyond a token role in MLS.

      • Joe Dirt says:

        Good points. NCAA needs to become FIFA compliant. No more unlimited subs and limited practice time.

        There are some valid exceptions to the rule on former NCAA players but most were years ago at times when MLS teams had no youth acadmey and Development Academy program didn’t exist either.

        All of Omar, AJ, and Franklin left college early to come to MLS. The same is true for Dempsey who only played one year. If your going go the NCAA way, don’t stay long its stunts your growth kids.

        All in all, I’m really excited about some of the youth we are developing right now. Junior Flores is an exciting prospect, already signed a pre contract with German side too. Ben Lederman is with Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, he’s only 12 though so who knows at that age what he becomes. You add in some of the under 20s likes Villareal and Zardes, Zach Pffefer and a few others and we’ve got some good talent coming up the ranks and just in time to as Donovan and Dempsey will be sunsetting in the next five years of so if not sooner.

        The future is extremely bright for US soccer and MLS. Its going to even more fun to see the sport grow here in the next five years as it was to see the leaps and bounds we made the past five years. Yes, thank you David Beckham. The experiment was a wild success.

        • Eric B says:

          The NCAA could give a flying fig what FIFA (or MLS, for that matter) could want. They don’t even have the same game rules as the NFL and NBA for those sports, where there could be some actual pressure for alignment.

          Individual coaches might care if they lose out on some good youngsters that would help them win (and thus keep their jobs) but unless you could prove to the NCAA that losing out on the US’s best 17-18 year olds is costing them potential revenue (when they weren’t making any money off soccer before MLS youth academies) don’t expect college soccer to change. It’s up to MLS to marginalize the NCAA as a talent source…

  5. dan says:

    AJ at leftback? O_o didn’t know bruce decided he’s there…

    • Brian says:

      AJ can play across the backline and he has experience, nut I think Bryan Gaul is more likely the other left back who Cochrane will be battling for time at that position.