By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Oct 31, 2018) US Soccer Players - In early September, the LA Galaxy was well on its way to another disastrous season. The club had just limped away from Rio Tinto Stadium, victims of a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Real Salt Lake, a result that extended its winless skid to six games. The early-summer turnaround appeared gone, and the team seemed to have hit rock bottom, confirmed when the team parted ways with manager Sigi Schmid.
Somehow, the Galaxy showed late signs of life under interim coach Dominic Kinnear, winning three and drawing another in a critical late-season stretch. Despite inconsistent play throughout 2018, the team entered the final day of the 2018 MLS season needing just a win to reach the playoffs.
The Galaxy teased its fans with a possible run at what would have been an unprecedented sixth MLS Cup title by holding a 2-0 lead against Houston Dynamo on Sunday. Instead of seeing the job through, the club showed just how far it has fallen. The Galaxy gave up three goals in a 23-minute span and lost 3-2, a season-ending, soul-crushing, dream-eviscerating defeat. Now, it's clear this is rock bottom.
There will be no playoffs, again. The season is over before Halloween, again. The team has no head coach, again. There are, once more, doubts about the future of this organization.
Major League Soccer’s once-proud franchise is facing a harsh new reality. This is a team that is a shell of its former self, a team that continues to live in the past, in the glory of its five MLS Cups. Now, the Galaxy will sit out the MLS playoffs for the second season running. The shine from those cups is gone. Dust is collecting on its mantle. Worse, the prospects of a new trophy are not great.
This is a brave new MLS world, one that features teams that have deep pockets and not afraid to reach into them. The Galaxy has to spend to keep up with the rest of the league.
Not that long ago, the Galaxy was the team that was an automatic lock to make a deep run. Just making the playoffs wasn't an issue. From 2009 through 2014, the Galaxy went to four MLS Cups and one conference final. The club did so with stars like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Robbie Keane.
Now, with the notable exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the big names are on other rosters. The Galaxy’s star players simply do not cut it. Brothers Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos are not strong enough to carry this team. They're parts of a greater whole that has yet to happen. In large part, that's simple to explain.
The defense is a mess. Despite yielding just two combined goals over the four matches prior to the finale, the defense proved its worth by rolling over in the second-half against Houston. The team overpaid for players like Jorgen Skljevic and Michael Ciani and missed the mark on the likes of Rolf Feltscher and Perry Kitchen.
It is the misguided defensive moves though that stand out. The Galaxy’s defense allowed 64 goals, an average of nearly two per game. The Galaxy had astounding losses, the 6-2 loss at RSL followed up by a 5-3 loss at Toronto FC and a 5-0 loss at Seattle.
Now, the Galaxy did well to land Romain Alessandrini before the 2017 season. Ibrahimovic also brought star power and 22 goals. That didn't keep them on pace with the rest of the league.
Other teams are hitting paydirt on imports. Atlanta has been one of the best teams in the league thanks to the likes of Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. LAFC brought in Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi while Seattle got a boost from Peruvian sniper Raul Ruidiaz.
The Galaxy also watched Gyasi Zardes leave the club and score 19 goals for Columbus, tied for fourth-best in the league. Perhaps Zardes needed fresh scenery to help get his career back on track. Maybe the Galaxy coaching staff did not know how to use him. Whatever the case, Zardes’s talent was the Galaxy’s to have until the club dealt him away.
Something big needs to change. All the club has to do is to look back at its own history to see that. The Galaxy made the playoffs in each of the league’s first ten seasons but missed the postseason in 2006 and 2007. The club was on its way toward another disastrous season in 2008 when the club sacked coach Ruud Gullit and brought in Bruce Arena. It was Arena who rebuilt the squad and got them back to their former glory despite missing the playoffs in 2008 as well.
The Galaxy needs changes, more so than roster moves. Arena’s gone and so too are most of the players who starred under him, but the club needs some of that back. The club needs someone who was as shrewd as Arena, someone who knows how to construct a roster. If the Galaxy has that person on its payroll, then that person has not exactly shown their worth with the club.
Perhaps Kinnear can be that person. If he gets more power over player personnel decisions, then he might be able to bring in some talent that could help get the team back to the postseason. Whatever direction the team goes in with regards to filling the coaching position, the team needs to bring someone in who has the freedom to mold the roster as he sees fit. Otherwise, next year could re-define what rock bottom means.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com