Commentary

Robbie Keane is a good fit for L.A.

Updated: August 16, 2011, 11:10 AM ET
By Jeff Carlisle | ESPN.com

It's not a case of MLS Cup or bust for the Los Angeles Galaxy. It's more like: Can the team still win the MLS Cup in spite of the bust that's already happened?

On Monday, the club announced that it had signed Ireland international striker Robbie Keane to a designated player contract, and with three such players already on its roster, L.A. will now be required to ship misfiring forward Juan Pablo Angel elsewhere, most likely to city rival Chivas USA.

How times have changed. It was just eight months ago that the Galaxy actually traded up to select Angel in Stage 2 of the first-ever MLS reentry draft. Granted, L.A.'s cost was minimal, needing only to send a fourth-round draft pick to Houston to swap spots with the Dynamo. But at the time it was thought that the Galaxy were sending a message to the rest of MLS. With Edson Buddle having departed for European climes, selecting Angel was viewed as a bold move, with the Colombian expected to fill the scoring void left by Buddle's 19 goals. The championship gauntlet had been thrown down.

It didn't come close to working out.

Angel has scored a measly three goals and added one assist in 22 appearances this season, 17 of those coming as starts. Even worse, he has never seemed to establish much of a rapport with attacking catalysts David Beckham and Landon Donovan. So despite the fact that the Galaxy had the best record in MLS, general manager and head coach Bruce Arena wasn't about to stand pat, and didn't hesitate to acquire Keane when offered the chance.

"I believe that [Keane] brings qualities in and around the penalty area that we have been lacking," Arena said in a press release that doubled as a not-so-thinly veiled reference to Angel's struggles. "Hopefully, he will be another piece of the puzzle in our quest for the Supporters' Shield and an MLS Cup championship as well as to advance to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League."

Yet is Keane a like-for-like replacement for the Colombian? Not really. Both players provide a predatory presence in the box but in different ways.

"Keane likes to play deeper in midfield, and I think he'll bring that flamboyance up top that L.A. has been missing," said San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Simon Dawkins, who was a teammate of Keane's with Tottenham Hotspur and observed Angel's play when the Colombian was with Aston Villa back in the mid-2000s. "Keane has good feet, and he can set up goals as well as score them. Juan Pablo is more of a target man who thrives on service and is a huge presence in the air. I think sometimes when you play like that, miss a few chances, and the ball isn't going in for you, you can get frustrated."

But the biggest difference is that, at just 31 years of age, Keane is more mobile than the 35-year-old Angel, whose ability to beat defenders has eroded. This is especially true given the vast expanses of the Home Depot Center. And although L.A. has been less direct this season than in recent years, they're perfectly content to utilize the long passing of Beckham, which would appear to suit the scrappier, more intense style of Keane. Add to it a greater willingness on Keane's part to combine in the attacking third of the field, and you have a player who better complements Beckham and Donovan.

"I think he'll have a huge impact," Dawkins said about Keane. "He's going to bring so much experience to MLS. And in the locker room, he's a wonderful guy to be around."

Of course, every move has an element of risk, and Keane has certainly struggled to find the net ever since his ill-advised move to Liverpool in 2008. Last season, he tallied just two league goals at West Ham United. And despite his prodigious work rate, he's never been the fleetest of foot, leaving open the possibility that the Galaxy will need to deploy Donovan up top more often, as opposed to the more hulking presence of Adam Cristman.

That said, when Angel arrived in MLS in 2007, he also had seen his production taper off, only for it to pick up again against the admittedly less formidable defenses of MLS. L.A. is clearly banking on Keane enjoying a similar renaissance.

As for Angel, the sight of the Galaxy basically forcing a move at this point in the season seems a cruel way for him to finish out his career, especially given his contribution to the league over the years. At first glance, a move across the hall to Chivas wouldn't appear to improve his situation. After all, he'll be playing his home games at the same cavernous venue as before, and if he can't score with Beckham and Donovan providing him with service, how will he score for a team with a much more modest pedigree?

But as manager Robin Fraser attempts to turn Chivas into a West Coast version of Real Salt Lake, the Goats have become more adept at playing the possession game, and a team whose attack tends to be more deliberate could end up suiting Angel better.

At present, Chivas is sniffing around the fringes of the playoff race. It would border on ironic overload if he were to lead the Goats into the postseason and go up against his old team when the playoffs roll around.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.

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