By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Dec 1, 2021) US Soccer Players – This year was supposed to have been the year of the LA Galaxy. Maybe not the year the storied MLS club returned to its former glory, but certainly the year the club made strides toward that end after several down seasons. After all, everything was seemingly in place for such a breakthrough. They hired an MLS Cup-winning coach to guide a Designated Player-laden team under the watchful eye of a strong front office.
However, as Major League Soccer’s season reaches its final four, the Galaxy is nowhere to be found. LA coach Greg Vanney may have gotten as much as he could out of this squad, alive until the final minute of the final match of the season. Now, the Galaxy navigates the early weeks of the offseason while looking for a new general manager.
Dennis te Kloese left the Galaxy last week, accepting a job with Dutch club Feyenoord. A native of the Netherlands, te Kloese will serve as the club’s CEO.
With the Galaxy, te Kloese brought in some talented players helping to stabilize things. Reaching the playoffs once in his three seasons with the club requires weighing the impact of the pandemic. Working through the on-field impact of that designated player spending is also part of fairly judging the results. A reminder isn’t necessary for depth existing at a premium in this league.
Right now, the Galaxy needs more than being on the brink of being on the brink. With the club struggled to get a first choice eleven on the field at the same time, putting together results was the issue. Three points from eight games from mid-August through September looms as the missed opportunity when a point would’ve meant the playoffs. If 2021 was supposed to have been “the year” and it wasn’t, then 2022 might become the the “it has to be this year” year.
How the Galaxy gets from here to there is already interesting. Longtime midfielder and team captain Jonathan dos Santos is on his way out after the club announced it will not renew his contract. Dos Santos has been the midfield’s heart and soul since he arrived in 2017. Dos Santos was a Designated Player and now the team has the ability to be both flexible and creative with a roster spot.
As for the rest of the roster, it seems that the Galaxy is finally in a bit of solid standing. Dos Santos is out, but the team has an otherwise stable roster. The other two DPs, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Kevin Cabral are under contract and seemingly not going anywhere anytime soon. Hernandez, of course, is the key to the attack. A healthy 2022 season would be as valuable as any player the Galaxy could bring in to fill the third DP slot. Victor Vazquez and Sacha Kljestan are out of contract but expected to return. Players like Oniel Fisher and Niko Hamalainen are gone, but otherwise, no major pieces need replacing.
In some ways, the 2022 team will be te Kloese’s legacy with the club. With deep ties to Mexico and Liga MX, te Kloese’s presence meant the Galaxy could tap into that and see some strong talents come through the team. He left the Galaxy with a well-stocked roster. Players like Rayan Raveloson, Samuel Grandsir, and Dejan Joveljic joined midseason and made key contributions to the team. Hernandez was also a big get for te Kloese’s Galaxy and MLS.
Far from the only MLS club looking at alternative versions of last season, the Galaxy has a point wondering what might have been had Chicharito played more often. He scored 17 goals in 21 games, finishing 3rd in the scoring table. There’s no doubt that he has the league’s defenses figured out. The teams that finished just ahead of the Galaxy should see Chicharito alone capable of changing the scope of the Western Conference.
What the next GM does with what te Kloese has already put in place should help push this version of the Galaxy fully into contention. te Kloese wasn’t a bridge between eras. Instead, he leaves having made significant moves in turning the Galaxy around. There are fewer questions than there were a year ago, a testament to the job the technical staff is doing.
That work continues, this time focused on that open designated player spot and how to design a roster that can pick up points with or without Hernandez. In that regard, it’s an interesting time when it comes to MLS roster building.
Following his team’s playoff exit, New England Revolution said of his squad that, “We had a very good year, and you could argue that maybe we played a little bit in over our heads.” That should also resonate for clubs that did better than the Galaxy. Eventually, the expectation is that spending on talent should be making a clear difference in the tables.
That adds to the pressure to not just get it right, but to have a clear concept of what “right” really means. For the Galaxy, it’s making sure not to undo the work of 2021 while building to something better in 2022. That’s the difference between next year finally becoming “the year” or another season raising questions it will take another offseason to try to answer.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno:
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- MLS Power Rankings: New England’s season
Photo by Michael Janosz – ISIPhotos.com