By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Dec 26, 2018) US Soccer Players - Much has happened in one year. Before 2017 was up, nobody knew what to expect from LAFC. The MLS expansion team seemed more like an abstract idea rather than a bona fide club. The Galaxy looked like a mess of a team with an uncertain future. Fast forward one year, and both LA clubs went through much change and growth. LAFC is no longer an unknown while the Galaxy has much more hope now than it did then.
Here are five of the major storylines that helped move both clubs along into this season and beyond.
5. Laurent Ciman leaving LAFC
Laurent Ciman joined LAFC a bit begrudgingly. The Belgian defender was comfortable on and off the field in Montreal, but a move to LAFC still happened.. Knowing how valuable a player of Ciman’s caliber is, LAFC made Ciman one of the first acquisitions in club history. Ciman became captain, scored the first-ever goal at Banc of California Stadium, and was every bit the emotional leader the club hoped for and needed. So it was a bit surprising when he left for French side Dijon in late August. Ciman reportedly wanted a long-term deal and LAFC was not able to give him that.
Future impact: Ciman’s leadership could have come in handy for LAFC down the stretch. With replacement Danilo Silva patrolling the central defense alongside Walker Zimmerman, LAFC’s defense took a hit. LAFC allowed nine goals in its final four games and lost in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs. Interestingly, Ciman has reportedly left Dijon and a return to MLS is possible. LAFC no longer owns any of his rights due to the transfer fee Ciman fetched. Ciman may wind up with either FC Cincinnati or Toronto FC, the teams who hold the top two spots in the allocation process.
4. Zlatan’s arrival
While rumors of a move to the Galaxy surfaced in 2017, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival at the club in 2018 was nevertheless a surprise. Ibrahimovic suffered a devastating knee injury in 2017 that prevented a possible move then, but there were no signs of it this year. Ibrahimovic was more than what the club could have hoped for. He dominated the league, scoring 22 goals and adding 10 assists. If there was any drawbacks to his arrival, it was the coaching staff’s inability to utilize him to his best potential. The Galaxy staff had not been expecting him and had built the team a certain way. With Zlatan in the lineup, he forced tactical changes that had a negative impact on the team. Consequently, the team missed the playoffs by one point.
Future impact: With one year of MLS under his belt, Ibrahimovic might be even more effective in 2019. Next year’s coaching staff would do well to build the attack around him. Ibrahimovic should score more than 20 goals again next season provided he stays healthy. That would be a great starting point for any team in this league. To keep him around, though, the Galaxy had to make him a Designated Player. That means that one of Giovani Dos Santos, Jonathan Dos Santos, or Romain Alessandrini will either have to restructure their own DP deal or leave the team.
3. LA Galaxy fires Sigi Schmid and Peter Vagenas
It was inevitable. Bad results on a team like the LA Galaxy will lead to changes. Schmid paid the price for the Galaxy’s unimpressive results while Vagenas paid the price for the team’s roster deficiencies. Schmid lasted a bit more than one year and had the team contending for the playoffs. The team needed a greater turnaround from a miserable 2017 season, one which opened up the coaching spot for Schmid to take. By the offseason, both Schmid and Vagenas were gone.
Future impact: The club moved quickly in the offseason to replace Vagenas by bringing in former Chivas USA executive Dennis te Kloese, who was as good of a hire that the Galaxy could have hoped. Te Kloese though may have already suffered a blow as Caleb Porter decided to take the vacant Columbus Crew coaching job instead of replacing Schmid. That coaching vacancy no looms over the Galaxy.
2. LAFC makes playoffs as third seed
Expansion teams do not usually do well in MLS, at least in their first seasons. LAFC was an exception. Despite playing its first six games on the road, LAFC was 4-2-0 heading into Banc of California’s opener. The stadium provided strength and comfort as the club lost just once there during the regular season. LAFC finished with a 16-9-9 record, good for 57 points and 3rd-place in the Western Conference. The ending was poor though as LAFC lost to Real Salt Lake at home in the knockout round.
Future impact: LAFC is no longer an expansion team. The club now will face Year Two with heightened expectations. They'll have to deal with a Western Conference that knows their game. The offseason has not brought any major player moves, but LAFC cannot sit still. An upgrade at defense is a must as Danilo Silva’s loan expired and he is not likely to return to the club. Also, Benny Feilhaber is out of contract. The club must make a decision on the veteran midfielder. Still, LAFC need to look no further than Atlanta United for inspiration. Atlanta won MLS Cup in its second season, after having faltered in the first round of the playoffs in its expansion season.
1. LAFC-LA Galaxy rivalry demands attention
It is no surprise that LAFC and the LA Galaxy had a rivalry going, but it was still impressive. The Galaxy, which had proclaimed in its marketing campaign that the club had been around since ’96, looked lost in the first-ever meeting but turned around a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 thanks to Ibrahimovic’s spectacular goals in his Galaxy debut. LAFC managed just two draws in the remaining games which featured electric atmospheres and great anticipation in the days and weeks leading up to the games.
Future impact: The clubs would have had another derby meeting had the Galaxy held onto a 2-0 lead against Houston in the season finale. Instead, the teams will have to wait until 2019 for the next meeting. With both teams likely contending for the playoffs next season, the LA Galaxy vs LAFC games will no doubt bring excitement and passion to Banc of California Stadium and Dignity Health Sports Park (nee StubHub Center). With both teams likely to remain in contention for years to come, the city of Los Angeles will get a playoff meeting between its two soccer clubs sooner or later.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno :
- Liga MX and the Club World Cup letdown
- Dennis te Kloese, Zlatan, and the 2019 LA Galaxy
- MLS Power Rankings: The 2018 MLS season
- The Galaxy's director of soccer
Photo by Michael Janosz - ISIPhotos.com