Set for LA, Gerrard will have to prove he can adjust to life after Anfield

Where is this line, Mr. Gerrard? I’m guessing it’s in June, perhaps early May, because your secret is starting to be told. And thanks to Jeff Carlisle at ESPNFC, we can read your future:

Perhaps Gerrard and Liverpool didn’t think it’d be leaked so soon. Maybe they thought the right thing was to announce the departure but not name the team until he could fly to the “USA,” slip on a kit, and …

NOT sign a deal, get loaned back to England, lie to season ticket holders, SULLY THE PERFECTION OF OUR SOCCER NIRVANA, AND …

Sorry. Went all NYCFC supporter for a second there. It’s emotional. Anyway.

The deal starts in June, runs for 18 months, and will pay Gerrard $6 million per season. Odds are the little publicity perks that go along with being a top MLS player will push that closer to $6.6 or $7 million, but we’ll wait for next summer’s Players Association release to learn that truth.

For some reason, the league is picking up $750,000 of the cost. Because the Galaxy need money? Who knows. Maybe that’s how much Stevie G’s going to get to make those mid-season trips to New York to be on Kelly and Brett Favre. Regardless, in MLS, there’s a line beyond which you’re both a star and a spokesman. And 2015 Stevie G seems really keen on lines.

Bigger picture, Major League Soccer’s champions just got a lot stronger, despite the growing cavalcade of critics deriding Gerrard’s form in England. But Gerrard is top of the Premier League bad, not Major League Soccer bad. He’s not even truly Premier League bad. He’s the kind of bad Thierry Henry was when he left Barcelona – still very good, just not very good by his own standards.
Liverpool v Southampton

And that standard was an amazing one. This is a player that could have played at Real Madrid. As much as his iconography morphed with what others described as atypical English player, his typicalness was so much more. The drive and power he could muster combined with a savant’s intelligence and timing. This was a player that could be the most talented man on a Champions League-winning club. This is also a man who, while his club fell behind the times and eventually ceded its perch, remained one of the top talents in one of the world’s best leagues. Gerrard is waning, but he’s waning from a crest that few attacking midfielders have eclipsed in our lifetimes.

It’s not hard to see Gerrard providing the type of playmaking Landon Donovan gave the team during the second half of last season. Perhaps Gerrard’s lack of pace meant he had to try to be Andrea Pirlo in England, but that’s England. In MLS, he can be Riquelme. He can be Totti. He can see his miles covered shrink to the point of criticism but still be the best player on the field. More nights than not, he’s certainly going to be the most talented.

There are, however, huge risks. He is old, slow and needs some time to regroup. If he doesn’t get that in the second half of the Premier League season, he may be useless until August. He’s also never played for any club but Liverpool FC. In a new league, against lesser competition, half-way around the world, it’s not hard to image his fire going out.

Just yesterday, I was watching videos of Gerrard at Anfield. They weren’t game highlights. It was him interacting with teammates, standing in the middle of impromptu huddles, encouraging them. Pleading, demanding, Gerrard was giving the same type of pep talks you’d see from a Mike Singletary, or Ray Lewis. It made you want to lace up.

For soccer, they were rare moments. It’s a game without huddles, without timeouts. You rarely see one man demand the attention of his entire squad. And there he was, in front of 10 men from points all across Europe, captivating them, denying them any right to see the moment with any doubt or cynicism. It was the power of Liveroool, the power of Gerrard, but it was also the power of Liverpool with Gerrard.

In two of the videos, he broke from his teammates to take in the crowd, the clapping his hands above his head, done with the comfort and confidence of a man who’d had a perfect connection with the ground. He wasn’t rushed, or too eager to please. He walked with a assurance of a man who knew how he was being seen. Few players have ever had a relationship with their home that Gerrard’s had at Anfield.
Liverpool v Stoke City - Premier League

What if he gets to LA, plays in front of the more demur Carson crowds, and just isn’t feeling it? It wouldn’t be an indictment of the Galaxy, or an indication that Major League Soccer doesn’t measure up. For Gerrard, there’ll only be one Anfield – the only place he’s ever known. At 35, will he even want to play soccer someplace else?

If it works, he’ll give Los Angeles a new look, though one that may not be much different from the “gaggle of central midfielders” approach Bruce Arena used through much of last season. At the top of a diamond ahead of Marcelo Sarvas, Juninho, and Baggio Husidic or Stefan Ishizaki? That’s one of the best midfields in the league, one that could cover for Gerrard’s weaknesses while giving him in space to thrive.

The whole thing would be more scary if it wasn’t for the arms race going on the Western Conference. LA started it with David Beckham (and Landon Donovan, the OG DP). Seattle upped the ante last year with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Now, as Erik Torres joins Houston and LAFC lurks in the distance, LA brings in a potential MVP candidate to augment their MVP winner (Robbie Keane) and Defender of the Year finalist (Omar Gonzalez).

The move’s not going to light the LA market on fire, but it will maintain the Galaxy’s “team to beat” status in the West. If Garth Lagerwey’s ever announced by Seattle, he’ll have some work to do.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images; Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.


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