The LA Galaxy are the most decorated team in MLS history, but it seems as though they have forgotten it as of late. LA have started the season with a 2-5-2 start to the season, giving fans and players a taste of what literally every other MLS club has gone through in their history: a dismal start to the season. While the fans’ cynicism may be heightened based on the club’s storied greatness, there are legitimate concerns for the LA Galaxy this season if they hope to have another successful year.
In a matter of 2 seasons, the LA Galaxy plummeted from being MLS Cup champions in 2014, to ending 2016 in the first round of the playoffs and parting ways with several influential team components both on and off the field. Consistent internal pressure from management to succeed and external pressure from fans who are nostalgic for the glory days lead to frustration and tension in the locker room when the results aren’t matching expectations. Even new additions to the fold, like Joao Pedro, allude to the greatness expected of an LA Galaxy team and how the results so far have not lived up to expectations.
An interesting sort of nepotism within the LA Galaxy is becoming more of a regular practice instead of an occasional decision. Former LA Galaxy players are sprinkled throughout the organization, starting with the general manager, Pete Vagenas, and technical director, Jovan Kirovski, all the way through to broadcast teams and academy staffing. While familiar names may emotionally appeal to the loyalty of the long time Galaxy fans, nostalgia doesn’t do much in terms of winning games. In reality, this practice is potentially overlooking a more suitable candidate for a role solely because of another person’s ties to the club as a player. In choosing Curt Onalfo for the head coaching role, the organization decided to promote from within to attempt to keep the Bruce Arena style alive at the club, rather than looking elsewhere at a candidate who may have been a better fit. While Onalfo does have previous MLS head coaching experience, and also meets the prerequisite of being a former LA Galaxy player, his coaching stints with the Kansas City Wizards and DC United left him with an overall losing record of 30-41-25. Awkward personnel choices and bizarre substitutions continue to be Onalfo’s downfall, but the biggest concern could be his loss of control in the locker room. Once the players lose faith in the plan, there isn’t much a coach can do to fix the situation.
Moving forward, something big has to change for this team to have a chance at making the playoffs this year. Rumors of signing a big name player in the summer mean very little if the Galaxy dig themselves too deep of a hole too early in the season. While many Galaxy faithful are already calling for Onalfo’s head, movement within the team may be enough to start allowing the team to work as a cohesive unit. On Saturday night Onalfo took what may have been a very big gamble by yanking Captain and influential center back Jelle Van Damme in the 33rd minute for "tactical reasons". After the game Onalfo was certainly not shy about criticizing the Belgian saying
“I expect our players to be right from minute one. I’m the leader of the team and if guys aren’t…I’m the leader of the team and I have to make substitutions to get our group to where it needs to be. I brought in Dave and he did a solid job and we didn’t concede anymore and it ended up creating a lot of chances.”
And when asked specifically about Jelle Van Damme's performance:
“We conceded two goals early on and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen moving forward.”
While the Galaxy managed to come back and score two goals in the second half to snag a point from the jaws of defeat, time will tell what if any effect this public statement will have on what seems to be a locker room that's precariously balanced at best. Maybe benching bigger names in favor of younger talent might be just what the Galaxy needs to right the ship and start winning games.