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Jan 5, 2008

Figo move doesn't make sense for Galaxy

Every January, seemingly before the confetti is swept off the streets after New Year's celebrations, we are hit with fresh rumors of some veteran European star preparing to cash in on a big payday in Major League Soccer.

We have heard about Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham (the only one to come true) and now we have Luis Figo as the latest alumnus of Real Madrid's failed "Galacticos" experiment to be tied to a move to the United States.

Reports out of Portugal have linked Figo to a move to MLS, with all signs pointing to him joining old friend Beckham with the Galaxy. The rumor has already begun losing steam, but if it ultimately winds up to be true, one has to wonder just what the Galaxy have in mind.

Would the Galaxy really consider acquiring another Designated Player slot to bring in Figo and squeeze his exorbitant salary into an already stretched salary-cap situation? As crazy and star-hungry as Alexi Lalas is, can the radical redhead really be lining up another marquee name to place alongside headliners Beckham and Landon Donovan?

The rumor might have just been laughed off if we weren't talking about the Galaxy. Yes, I know, the reports out of Portugal didn't link Figo directly with Los Angeles but it doesn't take much to realize that the defending champion Houston Dynamo aren't about to devote a chunk of their salary cap to a player they don't need. The only Anschutz Entertainment Group-owned team the rumors could be talking about is the Galaxy.

So how on earth could Los Angeles afford Figo? It actually wouldn't take that much MLS rules massaging. All the Galaxy would have to do is entice a team to deal away its Designated Player slot for a package including the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming MLS draft, allocation funds and cash. Why would a team do such a deal? It is clear that some teams either don't need to or aren't planning to use their DP slots and letting them go to waste is far worse than trading them for tangible assets. Throw in the potential of dealing the slot for a specific time period (say two years) and you can see how the Galaxy would be able to add another marquee attraction.

But do they really need one? The Home Depot Center is already going to sell out all Galaxy home games, and road games should still bring big crowds to see Beckham, so why the desire to bring in Figo? Does Beckham need a drinking buddy who can afford the ritzy clubs? Can Figo's jersey sales make him worth the investment? Do the Galaxy want one more headliner for their global tours? Is AEG ready to turn the club into the MLS version of the Harlem Globetrotters?

Or is it as simple as believing that adding Figo to Beckham, Donovan and Joe Cannon would give the Galaxy the nucleus of a championship team? Los Angeles is paying new coach Ruud Gullit a pretty penny to field a team that plays attractive soccer and to turn some of its young players into real contributors. Maybe Lalas and his bosses are convinced that Gullit's tactical ability, coupled with the star power at his disposal, will provide an MLS Cup-winning formula.

You have to wonder if Figo is the player to make that happen. Yes, he can still play -- he was playing well for Inter Milan before suffering a broken leg in November. Figo, however, is 35-years-old and has slowed considerably through the years. He can still create. His passes and crosses are still sharp, but would he really be motivated by a move to the States?

The same questions were asked of Cuauhtemoc Blanco before he arrived and flourished, but how many European stars have come to MLS at Figo's age (or older) and played like a star? That list begins and ends with Youri Djorkaeff, who enjoyed one great season with the MetroStars at the age of 37.

Figo might be able to conjure up his old magic, but at what cost? Having Figo, Beckham, Donovan and Cannon would leave the team with about $1 million of cap room for the other 24 spots on its roster (a bit more if, as expected, Figo arrived in midseason). Would that really be enough to build a team deep enough and strong enough to challenge the likes of Houston and New England for a title? Or would it be a formula for disappointment, much like the disappointments suffered by Real Madrid's "Galacticos," which failed to live up to expectations despite a wealth of superstars.

If Lalas and Gullit are smart, they will pass on Figo and redirect their energies toward building a champion rather than a traveling circus. The Galaxy roster has holes, but it does have some talent. After Beckham, Donovan and Cannon you have Chris Klein, who proved serviceable as a right back last year, and young defenders Mike Randolph, Ty Harden and Troy Roberts, who could benefit from Gullit's guidance. The club badly needs a forward who can score with some regularity, a defensive midfielder to do the dirty work for Beckham and Donovan and a central defender to anchor a back line.

The Galaxy have the allocations, draft picks and financial resources to address these needs, but not if the team ads Figo. If Galaxy fans are lucky, the Figo rumor will come and go just as the Ronaldo and Zidane to MLS rumors before it. If the rumor becomes reality, however, Galaxy fans might wind up waiting yet another season for their team to go from circus to champion.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.