Things have not been right in Carson, California for a very long time and this week the LA Galaxy took a big step towards righting the ship by parting ways with head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
There are a couple of things we need to make clear, though: 1. Schelotto wasn’t the main problem, as some of their issues pre-dated him. 2. This move was not about rescuing this season.
This season is essentially over for LA, and so this move was about 2021 and beyond. Just changing head coaches isn’t enough, though, so let’s take a look at a few things the Galaxy will need to do to get back on top.
Get the right coach
This is one of the most important decisions this club will ever make. They need to hire a coach who will command everyone’s respect — from rookie to superstar — the moment they walk through the door. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big name, but it does need to be someone who can communicate the club’s vision clearly and is not afraid to make big personnel changes if and when they are needed. Someone who can inspire the fan base and instill a sense of belief among the players — someone who can come in and do what Tata Martino and Bob Bradley did at Atlanta United and LAFC respectively.
Both of those coaches laid out their plan from day one, and anyone who wasn’t on board didn’t play. The new coach needs to be more important than every player — that’s the only way this will work. Liverpool have stars but nobody is bigger than Jurgen Klopp. The same goes for Manchester City and Pep Guardiola or Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane.
That is the model that the Galaxy must follow by getting someone who has the authority to truly be in charge. Should they go for a former player? I actually think there are a couple of former players — Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan — who would do well there simply because they have the Galaxy championship DNA in their blood and will instantly have the locker room’s respect from Day One. If not a former player, then it must be someone with a proven pedigree of winning. The Galaxy are about winning and they must get someone who is synonymous with that and has a proven track record everywhere they have been.
Decide who the main man will be
They can either go out and sign someone to build the team around or choose to build around someone already on the roster. For me, the answer is obvious for a few reasons. First, every time you sign a star player it’s a risk because there is no guarantee they will settle into the MLS way of doing things — travel, time zone changes, adapting to a new country and buying into the club’s culture and philosophy. Cristian Pavon has already adapted to all of that and has shown that he can lead the way on the pitch when given the freedom to do so.
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Second, ideally you want to build around someone you can count on for at least a few years. Pavon will be 25 next season and about to enter his prime years. From everything I’ve seen, he’s a player who cares about winning and wants to improve. If the Galaxy can get an ever-improving Pavon for the next three years, there is no need to go and get the next superstar — they already have him.
They will absolutely need to upgrade the pieces around him by getting two or three Best XI-caliber attacking players, and if they manage to do that, he can become to the Galaxy what Carlos Vela has been to LAFC. What does this mean for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez? It means that if both parties decide he will stay, he has to accept that his job will be to adapt to Pavon more than Pavon has to adapt to him. To be clear, both players will need to make concessions, but it cannot be like this season where it’s Pavon who is going beyond halfway. My message to the Galaxy is to do whatever you need to keep Pavon around.
Sign a defensive leader
I’ve mentioned a few times that I was fortunate to play against the LA Galaxy of David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and eventually Robbie Keane. At their best they were unstoppable offensively, and that’s what caught the eye. But, what I always respected about them, was that they took as much pride in being good defensively as well. In Omar Gonzalez, they had a leader who could balance off what the star players were doing in the final third. They were tough to play against because they had someone at the back who could organize and make defensive adjustments on the fly without needing the coach to dictate that to him.
The Galaxy are severely lacking that right now and that’s why they concede too many goals — a lot of them easily preventable. They must invest heavily in a defensive leader and then add two or three solid defenders to play alongside him. The Seattle Sounders have the best defensive record in the West partially because they hit the jackpot with Yeimar Gomez Andrade. Nashville SC concede less than a goal a game and have secured a playoff berth in large part because they traded for Walker Zimmerman. His impact can be measured not only by what he’s brought to Nashville but also by looking at LAFC’s defensive record with him last season — best in the league — and without him this season — fourth-worst in the league. How different would the Galaxy be with one of those two leading the backline?
Sign a goalkeeper
They don’t need to go out and spend millions on a goalkeeper but they do need to find someone who can make saves that win you games. A 'keeper with a commanding presence that instills nothing but confidence in the backline.
Our 2009 Sounders team was incredibly successful in our expansion year primarily because we had Kasey Keller in goal. He turned a lot of losses into draws and a lot of draws into wins. To be a top team, you need that. Donovan Ricketts, as unorthodox as he was, was a goalkeeper that won the Galaxy a lot of games a decade ago simply by being able to pull off a special save every now and then, and also by being a big, towering presence that commanded his 18-yard box when defending set pieces.
Even a great team like Liverpool look super vulnerable when Alisson is not in goal. This position needs to be a top priority this offseason.
Invest in youth
A slightly longer term goal should be to focus on developing young players that can one day lead the way and hopefully be sold to Europe to generate resources that can be reinvested. The Galaxy only have to look at what the Philadelphia Union are doing, as their great blend of experience and youth has them on course for the Supporters' Shield.
The only way to develop these young players will be by giving them playing time — once they’ve earned it, of course. Allow them to make mistakes on the job and push them to get better game by game. Take Efrain Alvarez, for example. He clearly has the talent to be a top player in this league but he will need to be given an extended run in the team to build the confidence needed to become the player he can be. Alvarez and others need to justify their starting spot every week by playing well, but I don’t think the constant being in one week and then out the other regardless of performance is beneficial in the long run. They must prioritize the development of their academy players over the next five to ten years to secure their future success.