By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Sep 27, 2017) US Soccer Players – The LA Galaxy and LAFC will not play an official match until sometime in 2018 but their first competition will begin as soon as this season is over.The Galaxy will miss the playoffs this season, the first time since 2008 that a Galaxy season will finish without a postseason appearance. To remedy that, the club will likely rebuild and could, for the second consecutive season, undergo a massive transformation.
LAFC meanwhile has all of three players on its roster now, although a coach is in place and everything seems to be heading in the right direction.
Come late October, the battle for Los Angeles will commence. The two teams will have the challenge of preparing for 2018 not only to put out a good product but to try and outdo one another and compete for attention in the massive media market that is Southern California.
The challenge will play out in interesting ways. One side must take an existing product and transform it into something productive. The other must sift through the rest of the league and try to use its location and the promise of a bright future to create something that will compete from Day One.
Will it be more difficult to rebuild something terrible or create something from scratch? We’ll find out sometime next season.
The way the Galaxy has fouled up 2017, though, it seems the less challenging task will be LAFC’s. This season is the Galaxy’s worst ever campaign, worse than 2006 when the Galaxy followed up an unlikely MLS Cup championship with a dreadful run that saw a coach firing and embarrassing loss after embarrassing loss. Worse even than 2008 when the glitzy David Beckham-led Galaxy team was more of a sideshow than an actual soccer club.
What has held back the Galaxy this season more than ever has been the lack of a true plan. At the start of the season, the Galaxy seemed intent on building from within, which seemed an honorable approach. Curt Onalfo had led LA Galaxy II for several years and the Homegrown Players seemed ready to take the next step. That lasted barely 20 games with Onalfo gone before August. The youth experiment has been a complete bust and the team is very much in disarray.
Perhaps no move better typifies the Galaxy’s lack of plan than Sunday’s lineup. Gyasi Zardes, who normally plays forward, lined up at right back for the first time in his career. Struggling to score goals, Zardes was nevertheless deemed a worthy option at right back.
The Galaxy may be trying to recreate some of the magic the club performed more than a decade ago. Back then, the club moved struggling forward Chris Albright to right back. That move not only helped Albright resurrect his career but make a World Cup squad. Now, it smacks of desperation.
Next season though may already seem like a lost cause. The Galaxy has no open Designated Player slots. Romain Alessandrini and brothers Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos occupy those slots. The Galaxy will have to hitch its wagon on those three players for at least the next couple of seasons. It is unlikely the Galaxy will jettison any of the three. Barring an unforeseen manner in which the Galaxy can re-designate one of the three as a non-DP, they’re out of the market. The Galaxy will not be able to throw cash at players and bring a high-priced, big-name talent to help rescue the team.
The team has holes everywhere, except perhaps central midfielder where Jonathan Dos Santos, Joao Pedro, Jermaine Jones, and Baggio Husidic line up. Jones may be an odd man out come the offseason if the Galaxy choose to go younger in that spot, but there is enough there to enter 2018 feeling somewhat comfortable.
The Galaxy needs a goalkeeper, fullbacks, an experienced center back, a winger who can play opposite Alessandrini, goal-scoring threats at forward, and depth at all positions.
LAFC needs all of those things too, and more. Perhaps the debutants have one of those covered as Carlos Vela is a bona fide scoring threat, but Vela is one of three players under contract with the club.
The expansion team seems to have plenty to look forward to. Bob Bradley is one of the finest coaches in league history. He brings a no-nonsense hard-working mentality that will surely resonate with the team from the start. Bradley has success with first-year MLS sides, winning the MLS Cup and US Open Cup with the Chicago Fire in their expansion season of 1998.
However, there has been plenty of optimism around expansion teams over the last decade. Few of them have had instant success. Only Seattle has made the playoffs in their first season since 2005, a desperately poor rate of 1-in-11.
Minnesota United will add to the list of failures this season but Atlanta United is well on its way to making the postseason. Atlanta is in 3rd-place in the Eastern Conference, second in the league in goals scored and holds a commanding 10-2-2 home record.
As 2-of-13 suggests, the odds are against LAFC reaching the postseason or even competing in its first season. LA is a tricky market, as Chivas USA found out in its expansion season of 2005. Like LAFC, Chivas USA came in with great fanfare and had experienced and talented players Ramon Ramirez and Francisco Palencia locked up and ready to roll before 2004 was out. Of course, 2005 was a disaster before Bradley came in and bailed the team out.
The business plan for LAFC is much different than Chivas USA’s and the team will try and start out in a much different manner. LAFC has deep-pocketed owners who want to win from the start and that desire could lead to the acquisition of talented players both from within and outside of MLS.
So, the first battle of Los Angeles is between a team with an overload of problems and one that has history against it. For both, the bar is set low.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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