The LA Galaxy braintrust took a risk this winter after Bruce Arena, the greatest and winningest coach in MLS history, walked away from the club and into the job at the helm of the US men's national team.
The Galaxy didn't turn to a hot young coach rising through the ranks in college, USL or NASL, nor did they scour the globe for a name to rival the likes of Tata Martino or Veljko Paunovic or even Patrick Vieira. Instead they turned inwards, to LA Galaxy II manager Curt Onalfo, with the idea that he'd write the new chapter for this franchise, and be the one who could knit together high-priced veterans with the precociously talented youngsters who've long speckled the Galaxy's academy system and USL team.
So you can see the sell on paper, right? Onalfo was supposed to be, in his own way, what Brian Schmetzer() was last year for the Sounders: The company man who'd keep the locker room together while providing a platform for the kids to shine.
() The irony of using Schmetzer as the comparison here is not lost on me, given who he replaced and who's replacing Onalfo.
Turns out that was a difficult trick to pull off. Onalfo, as of Thursday morning, is out as Galaxy head coach. He'll be replaced by Sigi Schmid, the man that Schmetzer replaced a year and a day ago in Seattle, because time is a flat circle.
LA will hope that continues to be the case because Schmid has already had a ton of success in Carson. He led the Galaxy to their first MLS Cup in 2002, and as a matter of fact it was a double (MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield). He also coached them to a CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 2000, and a U.S. Open Cup in 2001.
Schmid moved on to Columbus and won another Cup/Shield double in 2008, and then moved to Seattle and ripped off four Open Cup titles in six years, the last one (2014) punctuated with a Shield win, to boot. He's already won every title there is to win in LA, is a legend in Seattle, and probably should be considered one in Ohio as well. If hiring Onalfo was "let's take a chance on a guy we believe in who's had his shots to coach in MLS but really hasn't been up to the task before," hiring Schmid is "let's hire a proven commodity because wow, that's the Sword of Damocles over there."
This is a salvage job. Sigi's coming home to show the world he can still coach, and to save jobs. If he can extract a pound of flesh from the Sounders along the way this Saturday (10 pm ET; ESPN & ESPN Deportes in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada), more's the better.
It will not, however, be easy. The Galaxy roster is mismatched and judging by the body language of the players on the field, the locker room may be broken. This goal was shocking:
Two DPs, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani Dos Santos, make no effort to close down at all after the turnover. Jermaine Jones lets Kelyn Rowe run right past him, and then jogs behind the play for 80 yards. Jelle Van Damme is not able to close Rowe down cleanly, but the foul he commits leaves Lee Nguyen in a 1-v-1.
Shot, deflection, goal. Lack of effort, lack of speed, lack of teamwork visible throughout. The Galaxy, losers of five straight, are a mess.
""This is one of the most important clubs in the league, and in any other part of the world, our situation would be managed differently," Dos Santos told ESPN Digital a few weeks back. It was easy to understand what he meant, and now the inevitable has come to pass.
So what, then, does Schmid have to figure out? It's actually not that much, from where I sit. LA just need a manager brave enough to bench the guys who aren't performing, and straight-forward enough to simplify. If I were to guess at what the Galaxy would look like under Sigi, I'd harken back to his 2008 Columbus team that played a 4-4-1-1. Dos Santos can be the free roaming creative "1", while it appears that Gyasi Zardes – if the Galaxy do indeed use their third DP slot on midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos – will get to go back up top and be a center forward.
That is a fine place to start. Alessandrini and Ema Boateng on the wings, with Bradford Jamieson IV in reserve, is arguably an even better place to continue. Joao Pedro and Jona Dos Santos in central midfield... this team looks solid at least through the front six.
The backline is iffier. Both Van Damme and Ashley Cole have lost a step, and while LA have developed some useful players through Los Dos, none of them are "Upon this Rock"-level talents. Goalkeeper, meanwhile, has been an adventure. Don't be at all surprised if the Galaxy, at Schmid's behest, are very active in the trade market in the next two weeks.
They have the assets, both young and old, to make some moves. And now, in Schmid, they have a manager who's proved he knows how to right a ship. It's not too late to point the 2017 away from that oncoming iceberg.