2011 has been a series of questions for forward Juan Pablo Angel. After a very successful stint with the New York Red Bulls, JPA was dropped like a hot potato at the end of the 2010 season. The question at that point was would he come back to another team in MLS? He signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, who were seeking to get that elusive championship and had a fairly stacked team. By the start of the season, the question for Angel was if he was the final piece in the title-winning side. But after a disastrous first half of the 2011 season, when he seemed unable to score to save his life, fans were wondering if he would be back in 2012. But with the sudden availability of Irish striker Robbie Keane, JPA was dumped out of his second straight team in less than a year. In an interesting twist, Angel was traded to Chivas USA in order to make room for Keane, although Chivas didn't actually give up any players in exchange for him, just a third round supplemental draft pick, which was small potatoes all things considered. From there, the question was: could Angel regain his scoring touch in the last few months of the season and help Chivas make the playoffs?
The answers to those two questions were emphatically yes, and unfortunately no. After scoring 3 goals and providing one assist in 22 appearances with the Galaxy in 2011, JPA scored seven goals in nine appearances for Chivas. It was a remarkable turnaround, and indicates that JPA still had something to give, even at the age of 36.Despite the drastic divergence in form for JPA for the two Los Angeles teams in 2011, it still remains somewhat puzzling as to why he struggled so much with the Galaxy. Although that team had offensive weapons in Landon Donovan and David Beckham, JPA was certainly the featured striker for the squad, as the second striker options for the season were Chad Barrett, Adam Cristman, and periodically Mike Magee. Although Barrett and Magee had career years, they are undoubtedly a step down from JPA. And yet he could not score. I suppose one reason he struggled could have been because of the pressure to perform. With the Red Bulls, he was the talisman, but except for a surprise trip to the MLS Cup final in 2008, he was never particularly successful in translating goals to general club triumphs. So maybe the pressure to win the title was overwhelming for him. What didn't help was that the team seemed to give up on him towards the end of his stint, and as forwards need confidence more than other players, it proved to be too much to overcome.
And so he fell into Chivas' laps. In hindsight, I wonder if any other teams complained to the league about the trade between the clubs, or if Angel's stock had fallen so much by that point that nobody thought he was worth picking up. But with Chivas, JPA thrived. Again, seven goals in nine matches is a terrific return, and in the five games he scored with Chivas, they won one match, lost one, and drew three.
When he arrived at Chivas in mid-August, the club was in the middle of a playoff push, and it seemed like it was possible the Goats would really make the postseason. Despite a gritty 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids in his first match in the red and white, on August 20, in which Angel scored in his first appearance, Chivas' postseason hopes were dealt a major blow four days later against the Portland Timbers, when they lost 1-0. That loss seemed like the turning point in hindsight, and Chivas only won once in their last eleven matches on the season, which killed their postseason hopes in a hurry. So although JPA was brought in to help Chivas make the playoffs, the team fell short of the ultimate goal on the season. But I don't think JPA can be faulted for that, especially considering how many goals he scored. He ended up only one goal behind the team's season leaders, Nick LaBrocca and Justin Braun, who both had eight goals, and remember, played far more matches with the Goats.
Above all, Angel rejuvenated his season, and perhaps his career, with his 2011 stint with Chivas. I was among those who were extremely skeptical about whether JPA had anything to contribute to Chivas, but I'm happy to admit he proved me wrong and then some. The latest question surrounding JPA is if he will return to Chivas for the 2012 season. Given his excellent play, I think most Chivas fans are hoping he returns, and I am certainly among them. This becomes even more important now that Braun has been traded to the Montreal Impact. The question is whether he and the Chivas' front office can agree on a salary, which is sure to be contentious. He made an even $1 million in base salary for the 2011 season, and I find it unlikely Chivas is willing to pay anywhere near that amount. With Angel's advanced age and family settled in Los Angeles, it may make him more amenable to taking a significant pay cut. But let's all hope he doesn't get majorly lowballed. Will he be back in 2012? We will have to wait and see what happens over the next few months, but I am feeling optimistic JPA will be back in the red and white.
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