Wynalda: The buzz in Los Angeles
in the coaching department, that is. They have made a change in direction, a change in philosophy and a change that many feel was unnecessary.
The man responsible for that change is general manager Doug Hamilton, and he will be the man who will ultimately live and die by this (somewhat) controversial choice. At the press conference, Hamilton's statement was simple: It was time for a change. It was a change not many expected with Schmid's Galaxy still sitting at the top of the MLS standings.
Hamilton's bold move has sent the coaching community reeling a bit, seeing that there were others in a far more compromising position whose jobs were definitely more in jeopardy and probably still are. I wouldn't be surprised if several, if not all, of the current college coaches who had submitted their resumes for the Salt Lake position just pulled themselves out of the running, opting to stay in their cushy "program" positions. If a guy in first place can get fired, why walk away from a college program to coach an expansion team? Maybe Dave Checketts should call and thank Hamilton for preventing those 20 or so useless interviews from ever happening. And, for those of you who love and respect Schmid, stop worrying about him. I wouldn't be surprised if he's shopping for townhouses in Salt Lake City right now.
But let's get back to the fans' perception of Schmid's removal. There are many who believe that he did not deserve to be let go. Outside of a bad start last year and a late playoff collapse against San Jose, there are few coaches as decorated as he is in our league's brief history. But, let me remind you that Los Angeles is a tough place to coach, and if you don't believe me, ask Octavio Zambrano, who was also seemingly very successful with the Galaxy.
If first place is all you were looking at, to Hamilton it's a little more complicated than that. The reason why Schmid was removed is because his team was in first. It's because the team was doing well and the attendance still wasn't quite there. If you're Hamilton, you can't have a first-place team and still not be a story. Steve Sampson, like him or not, is a story, and he is the "buzz" that Hamilton was looking for.
It should also be noted that Sampson spent the last two years coaching the Costa Rican men's national team and speaks fluent Spanish, which is why over the last several weeks, when the new Chivas franchise was mentioned, his name seemed to be almost always mentioned in the same breath. I actually think Sampson's language abilities didn't have that much to do with his hiring, but he will definitely be a breath of fresh air to the media and Spanish-speaking community who suddenly have a reason to attend practice.
So Sampson takes over a first-place team, a difficult task to say the least. Still, he will, as any coach would in this situation, have an immediate and positive effect on the players. That's because all of them have to prove their worth all over again with a whole new set of rules and whole new set of eyes upon them, thus creating an extremely healthy competitive environment, something that has been missing. I think this was exactly the change that Hamilton was looking for.
When you speak about Galaxy players, one player comes to mind more so than most: Cobi Jones. Cobi and I flew back from Jamaica together, and I was with him when he received the message that Sampson would be calling him regarding his future or -- who knows -- lack thereof in Los Angeles.
Jones is totally prepared for the upcoming weeks. He played every minute in France in World Cup 1998 when Sampson coached the U.S. team, and he's the only player who can say that. (I don't know if that's anything to brag about, but it's still a fact.) I know Jones recognizes that his relationship with Sampson can potentially be a very good one because they both have an opportunity to do something special.
Regardless of the buzz, I'm curious. I'm sure you're curious, too. That's why I'm guessing there will be more people at practice in the upcoming weeks to see what happens with this team.
Forget about the poor showing by Sampson and the U.S. in 1998. Sampson's tumultuous relationship with many of his national team players was mainly caused by the fact that it was not an everyday job for Steve. As national team coach, he only saw his players one week out of each month. In his first opportunity to manage an MLS team, Sampson has an opportunity to have a better relationship with his players. I think he will be very good at dealing with people and managing his players on a day-in, day-out basis.
The pressures of being a national team coach and the perception of reality and the paranoia that often accompanies the job were ultimately Steve Sampson's downfall with the U.S. team. But a lot has happened since 1998, and I believe Steve Sampson is more than ready for this challenge. The Galaxy have hired a coach who has the resume, the media savvy and the business sense to fit quite neatly into the AEG family. I know this will sound strange, but as he takes his team onto the field on Saturday, I will be hoping he does well. No, really. I do. I know you won't believe that, but it's true.
So that brings us to this weekend's matchup (Chicago Fire at Los Angeles Galaxy, 10 p.m. ET [tape-delayed at 12 midnight on ESPN2]): The other guy that I flew back from Jamaica with was Chicago Fire midfielder Chris Armas. We had several different conversations about what's going on in Chicago. When I asked him what he thinks is going on with that team, he gave me a puzzled look that I haven't seen him make before.
The truth is the Fire, for about a dozen reasons, are really struggling right now. They have all the same complaints about injuries and bad luck that you would expect from a team in their position, but those did not come from Armas. When I asked Chris how to fix it, his response was what I expected from him, knowing the leader he is: they can't be concerned with what's happened already. They have to worry about what's going to happen. Looking at the schedule, destiny will be in their hands with both Columbus and D.C. on their schedule twice.
No one expected Chicago to be in last place at this point, especially after coming off last year's runner-up season. The club can't hide from the fact that they sold two of the premier players in the country in Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley, and now they lost one of the best strikers in the league, Ante Razov, to surgery. Their group is still talented enough to get results. Whether they choose to accept that is entirely up to them. Somehow, I still think they'll make the playoffs.
As far as this game against Los Angeles is concerned, with everything going on with the coaching change, the Fire couldn't have picked a worse time to play the Galaxy. Los Angeles is going to be a very energized group, and the Fire will just have to match that energy to be competitive. Since I don't care who wins this game, I'm just looking forward to it being a good one.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.