CARSON, Calif. – Alexi Lalas admitted that the Los Angeles Galaxy's desire to grow as a worldwide brand contributed to the team's failure over the past two seasons.
The Galaxy president was left deeply frustrated as Major League Soccer's most high-profile team wilted in the international spotlight last season, failing to reach the playoffs while the world looked on after the arrival of David Beckham.
Lalas promises things will be different this time around, citing the addition of former World Footballer of the Year Ruud Gullit as head coach and catalyst. And while there are no plans to scale back the hectic master plan of growth and global recognition, from now on nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of the performances on the field.
"All the wonderful things we have done are all very well and the Galaxy has been through an incredible evolution," Lalas said. "When people around the world think about American soccer, they think about the Galaxy. But however big we get we can never lose sight of the fact that what happens on the field is the most important thing.
"In the last three or four years, we have lost sight of that a little bit. Making the playoffs at the Galaxy is not something to be proud of, it is an expectation, and for two years we have not done that. That is a failure."
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
9-14-7 (34 points), fifth in Western Conference, 11th overall. Missed MLS playoffs.
KEY MAN: David Beckham. The England midfielder is desperate to stay fit and play a full part in his second MLS season. His ability to whip in crosses from the right and to stretch the play will be crucial for the Galaxy. Playing on the wing should make it harder for opposing defenses to shut him down by packing the center of midfield.
NEWCOMER: Julian Valentin. The tenacious defender will miss the start of the season through injury but don't be surprised if he is a permanent starter by the end of the campaign. He is strong, determined and ready to step in if Abel Xavier's aging legs start to give way.
OUTLOOK: Any less than a dramatic improvement upon 2007 will be seen as a disaster for the Galaxy. Much hinges upon Beckham, Landon Donovan and Ruiz, who take up a large proportion of the club's salary cap space between them. Gullit may take some time to adapt to the league but the Galaxy's big game players will make them mightily dangerous come playoff time.
Since taking over for Frank Yallop, Gullit has put his players through an exhaustive fitness regimen and will not accept a lack of effort from any player. He will have a stronger and deeper squad to work with than Yallop did, after the club brought in Carlos Ruiz from Dallas, signed a string of enterprising youngsters and snapped up Brazilian central midfielder Alvaro subject to a work visa.
But much of the attention will once more be trained upon Beckham, whose midseason arrival and injuries last year caused him to miss all but five MLS games.
With his 100th international appearance for England stashed safely in his locker, the 32-year-old's next target is to help the Galaxy become contenders.
"I just want to make an impact as a team player," Beckham said. "I am not a player who is an individual person. That is my way of making an impression with the Galaxy. My game is all about assists and without doubt if I get the chances I will do that.
"We are all getting a lot more confident now in the ability of the team. We proved in preseason we can play some good football. It is about putting it together."
"There seems to be a lot more bonding and togetherness in the squad this year. It was difficult last year because I came in halfway through and wasn't fit. But now we have spent a lot of time together to give us a lot of time to bond."
The Galaxy do look sharp and have big ambitions for the new campaign. With the MLS Cup final to be staged at the Home Depot Center, the prospect of playing on home soil in the title game is tantalizing. But it is also a long way off.
For all the new signings, Gullit's charisma, the second coming of Beckham and Lalas's bold words, the real business will take place on the pitch, beginning with Saturday's opener at Colorado.
"It has been a long preseason," Beckham said. "I just want to get it started now."