From formidable to forgettable: Chronicling the LA Galaxy's 2017 downfall

Giovani dos Santos - LA Galaxy - anguish

The LA Galaxy are now mathematically eliminated from 2017 MLS postseason play, and there’s no more sugarcoating it: they’ve had a historically bad season.

With three games left they have earned just 28 points. If the club were to win out, they’d still finish with their lowest point total since 2008, the last time the Galaxy missed the playoffs. They need to at least sweep their remaining home games (against Real Salt Lake and Minnesota United) just to beat their franchise worst 33 points from that 30-game 2008 season.

That said, this Galaxy season will also go down as one of the unluckiest. From injuries to happenstance through to the plain bizarre, let’s take a look at the 2017 LA Galaxy season to date and figure out where they might go from here.

Failure to Launch

The first injury of the 2017 Galaxy season occurred back in December of 2016 when Robbie Rogers had surgery on his left ankle to repair nerve damage. The Galaxy’s first choice right back never participated in preseason and was eventually placed on the 2017 season-ending injury list. January didn’t prove any luckier for the Galaxy, when Gyasi Zardes suffered a knee injury, and a long-time LA fullback A.J. DeLaGarza was traded away to the Houston Dynamo, in part due to salary cap considerations.

When Ashley Cole suffered a calf strain in preseason training, it meant beginning the new season facing 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners FC Dallas with a center-back and a defensive midfielder at the fullback positions. Giovani dos Santos’ penalty was the lone goal in a 2-1 loss, and it would be his only MLS goal ‘til May. 

Shooting Stars

Jelle Van Damme picked up a number of red cards in 2017, but his first came on two almost successive yellow cards that would turn into a viral moment. The two yellow cards were made into a Shooting Stars meme by the LA Galaxy twitter account, the implication being that the cards were less than deserved.

Dos Santos would pick up an injury and have to be subbed out at halftime. 

First Home Win, Then More Controversy

LA’s first home win came on April 7, and fans at the StubHub Center wouldn’t see another win until Sept. 2. That Sept. 2 win, during an international break against the only team in the Western Conference with fewer points, stands as the only time to date in 2017 that the Galaxy beat a full strength MLS team – the April 7 win came against a 10-man Montreal Impact

Of course the card came on a dive, did you even have to ask?

From formidable to forgettable: Chronicling the LA Galaxy's 2017 downfall -

Captain of the Bench

Twice, head coach Curt Onalfo pulled a move rarely seen in top-flight soccer, a first-half tactical substitution. The first use of such a sub came in a 3-0 home loss to the Seattle Sounders, when Onalfo replaced Emmanuel Boateng with Baggio Husidic after giving up two first-half goals (they’d give up a third just before halftime). 

Two games later Onalfo pulled the same move with better a results. He benched captain Van Damme with the team down two goals at home to the Chicago Fire, inspiring a come-from-behind draw. For his part, Van Damme would accept blame for the surrendered goals and apologize to his teammates. When the losing stopped, it almost seemed like the tactic worked. 

A Brief Glimmer of Hope

With the Galaxy at the bottom of the Western Conference, it’s easy to forget that May actually brought with it a three-game winning streak. It would be the club’s only winning streak of the season, and all the wins came on the road. Their first win of the streak, a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, was emblematic of the stories told about the early season LA Galaxy.

Better on the road? Story of the early ‘17 Galaxy. Constantly involved in red card decisions? Bradley Diallo would earn one just before full time going in for a tough tackle while on a yellow. On the whole, the unbeaten streak would reach eight games, with wins on the road, draws at home. 

Injuries Pile Up

Zardes wouldn’t be the only Galaxy player to go down with an injury while on national team duty, as Sebastian Lletget suffered a Lisfranc fracture in a 6-0 USMNT victory over Honduras that put Lletget on the road to a six-month recovery. The LA midfield, which at one point felt overstuffed, also lost Husidic to a broken fibula, and Jermaine Jones to a knee injury. 

Elsewhere on the roster, Daniel Steres and dos Santos both missed time due to hamstring issues, Brian Rowe tweaked his groin in practice. There were a handful of games before Onalfo was relieved of his duties where he couldn’t find 18 healthy players to fill out a game-day roster. 

From formidable to forgettable: Chronicling the LA Galaxy's 2017 downfall -

Four-Goal Gaps & 4th of July Gaffes

Losing 4-0 has become the norm for the Galaxy recently, with back-to-back losses to Toronto FC at home and Atlanta United on the road in September. They were the second and third such four-goal losses for the Galaxy in 2017, with the first coming in a 6-2 Fourth of July obliteration at the hands of Real Salt Lake. At the time, the loss was bad enough that comparisons were made to the club’s worst-ever defeat – a 5-0 loss to the New England Revolution in 2013. It wouldn’t be long until Sigi Schmid was brought on board for a change of pace, but lopsided losses would continue to be a thing. 

We're All-Stars Now

The Galaxy’s game before the 2017 MLS All-Star Game is notable for the storylines going into and out of the match, if not for anything memorable happening on the pitch. The Galaxy fired Curt Onalfo midweek, the third time he’d been fired as an MLS head coach in late July/early August. 

The team hired Schmid the week they were to face the Seattle Sounders, Schmid’s former team. A scoreless draw stopped the defensive bleeding, but Van Damme picked up a second yellow just before the final whistle. Rumors started to float that he was looking to return to Belgium, a kindness as he wanted to reunite with family, a move that eventually materialized before the end of the summer.

Brother Can You Spare A Goal?

In a season this odd, it shouldn’t be surprising that the team’s only true first-team forward – Gyasi Zardes – wouldn’t score until Sept. 2, ending a scoring drought that dated back to last season. Without Robbie Keane to set him up, Zardes has looked on an island for much of 2017. That lack of goalscorers has been seen in a string of goalless losses since Schmid took over, with five such instances, including the recent back-to-back 4-0 losses.

We're Having a Family Meeting

Which brings us to now, with Schmid holding 15-minute team meetings after blowout losses to remind players they’re still playing for their jobs. Along the way Galaxy fans have rarely seen the same lineup game-to-game, and there were several games where more players watched from the stands than were available off the bench. No official captain has been announced since Van Damme left, although there was some confusion when the outgoing captain took to instagram to congratulate Cole on being named captain and the veteran left-back had to correct him. 

After the last team meeting, none of the team’s Designated Players spoke to the media. It was on the young guys to tell reporters what was discussed behind closed doors. Goalkeeper Jon Kempin said they had to “play for some pride.” As strange and unlucky as the Galaxy season has been, teams without leadership and pride rarely accomplish much.