Signing Ashley Cole would be L.A. Galaxy's latest change for the worse

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Signing Ashley Cole would be L.A. Galaxy's latest change for the worse
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While the kickoff of the 2016 Major League Soccer season is still more than three months away, the rebuilding process is already underway for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Having sold the influential duo of Omar Gonzalez and Juninho to different Liga MX clubs last week, the Galaxy is reportedly on the verge of signing former England defender Ashley Cole from AS Roma.

But despite reports that the Galaxy is lining up a non-Designated Player deal for him, L.A.'s interest in Cole has some pundits and fans scratching their heads.

A member of the Arsenal "Invincibles" undefeated squad with three Premier League medals and a Champions League title to his name, the former Arsenal and Chelsea defender has as impressive a pedigree as anyone in the game. However, Cole is 35. And on the evidence of his one season at Roma, where he made only 11 appearances and distinguished himself mainly by creating an awkward moment in the team photo, the club's motives for bringing him in at this point in time deserves to be questioned.

For starters, Cole is a left back, the same position of the popular Robbie Rogers, who has distinguished himself in that role since being converted from a midfielder. It’s honestly hard to see how Cole could be an improvement on a guy like Rogers, who knows the league, has the positional astuteness to keep it together in defense and also possesses the pace to get forward when the opportunity arises.

Further stoking fan concerns are rumors of the Galaxy making a move for Jermaine Jones. The German-born U.S. international is out of contract with the New England Revolution and already owns a house in Los Angeles, but even if the 34-year-old's arrival turns out to be just a rumor, signing Cole would leave the Galaxy with three players in its starting lineup who are 35.

The growing concern for L.A. fans is that they could be witnessing a kind of NYCFC-ization of the Galaxy.

New York City FC, the Manchester City-backed club that joined the league last season, made some of the biggest signings ever in MLS. However, even with World Cup winners Andrea Pirlo and David Villa on the books, along with veteran Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, NYCFC endured a lackluster first season, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference to fall short of the playoffs. The club ended up parting ways with manager Jason Kreis.

While assembling a team of aging global superstars can be great in terms of selling tickets, it hasn’t always proved itself to be a demonstrable model for success in MLS. Galaxy fans, who have grown accustomed to seeing their team lift the MLS Cup, could perhaps be forgiven for questioning the prudency of a move for a player like Cole.

Steven Gerrard often showed a lack of pace in his first MLS season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Steven Gerrard often showed a lack of pace in his first MLS season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

This skepticism likely has to do with lingering questions over last summer’s marquee signing, Steven Gerrard. Although the Liverpool legend got off the mark well with a goal in his first game, his arrival coincided with a downward turn in the Galaxy’s form that, fairly or not, Gerrard has been handed part of the blame.

Expectations remain high that Gerrard will ultimately find his feet in MLS and build on the chemistry he exhibited at times last season with fellow Premier League veteran Robbie Keane. But bringing in another player (or two) of the same vintage doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to improve a team that collapsed in the playoffs and admittedly looked like it was struggling to accommodate Gerrard’s lack of pace at times.

As we’ve witnessed in the past, money doesn’t always talk in MLS. Especially in the 2015 season when NYCFC, L.A., Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders and the league’s other superstar-heavy teams failed to win the title. Instead, MLS Cup was contested by a pair of teams without a single superstar between them in the Portland Timbers and the Columbus Crew.

On the other hand, this is Galaxy manager Bruce Arena we are talking about. More often than not, the man who has won more MLS Cups than anyone finds a way to make things work.

Adding a player like Cole to the ranks, alongside Gerrard and Keane, is undoubtedly a good move in terms of filling more seats. And if there’s a manager in the league capable of retooling this team into an intriguing balance of "experienced" veterans and younger players like Rogers, Giovani Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes and Sebastian Lletget, it’s Arena.

But bringing in players like Cole, and possibly Jones, could mean L.A. runs the risk of winding up with a team that’s more of a tourist attraction than an actual title contender.