Not too long ago the LA Galaxy would have been a lock to beat the last-place Philadelphia Union this weekend. StubHub Center used to be impenetrable by Major League Soccer standards. The Galaxy didn’t just beat visiting teams, they toyed with them.
Once upon a time we couldn't take our eyes off of the league’s last great dynasty. And as much as fans outside LA love to hate one of the league’s flagship clubs, they still watched the Galaxy in numbers. What with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan and a cast of serviceable MLS contributors, the Galaxy were as dominant as an MLS club can be in this age of parity.
A few seasons later, though, the league’s former flagship team isn’t just trending towards mediocrity, it’s nearing the caboose. With a 2-5-0 record, including three home losses in four matches at StubHub, the Galaxy have started 2017 with the third-lowest points-per-game in the league. An unthinkable loss to the disillusioned Union this Saturday (10:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE) could see the Galaxy hit rock bottom for the first time in a decade.
Except the league is more alluring when the Galaxy assume their perennial role as league-wide bully while the rest of the field try to take down the most storied organization in the league.
Galaxy seeking an identity
Just last Sunday the Galaxy were booed off the StubHub Center pitch by a disgruntled fan base that haven’t been this upset since David Beckham’s controversial loan spell at AC Milan back in early 2009.
And who can blame them? More concerning than Sunday’s 3-0 shellacking from the Seattle Sounders was the body language on display. The Galaxy weren’t just handily beaten by the defending MLS Cup champs. They looked deflated and discouraged – a side lacking communication and leadership and any idea of how they want to play.
Perhaps it’s too early, perhaps a summer transfer window (although sans an injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic) can still help flip the script. As of now, though, it's feeling like the end of an era for a club that’s missed the playoffs just three times in the league's previous 21 seasons.
A side once defined by winning and glitzy signings is a shadow of what they were under ex-boss Bruce Arena, who boxed up his staff on the way out the door, leaving new head coach Curt Onalfo to pick up the pieces. And just like that, the Galacticos – after shedding Keane and Co. and so many other important players – have been far less dynamic going forward.
Say what you will about Giovani dos Santos, but the Mexican international needs players to combine with rather than runners like Gyasi Zardes and Romain Alessandrini. In the team's current iteration, we're witnessing is a Dos Santos who is a complementary piece instead of a focal point.
The Threat Around the Corner
Add it all up – results, personnel, a grumbling fan base – and the Galaxy are on a path to a down year when it can least afford to have one given what looms, namely expansion side LAFC.
With the Banc of California Stadium under construction, a hip new crest, a Who's Who roster of investors and reports that they are interested in constructing their roster around Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, LAFC will be making a strong play for the hearts of fair-weather fans in Southern California as the newer, trendier, and for some in downtown LA, a more convenient club to follow.
Allegiances undoubtedly will be tested – especially if the Galaxy move away from big "name" signings that once garnered the club worldwide attention.
For now Galaxy supporters are left questioning their club’s direction following a legendary manager’s departure and an uncanny start to this season. The rest of us – the neutral, the pundit, the long-time MLS observer – are left perplexed by the idea of a storied organization's uncertain future when many of us are eyeing a Galaxy-LAFC rivalry that feels something closer to the Boca-River rivalry in Argentina.
A burgeoning, inter-city derby involving soccer-specific venues would take Major League Soccer to new heights in La-La Land – just as the NY Derby and Cascadia Cup have galvanized and converted soccer fans on both coasts for multiple seasons.
They’re matches most fans circle on the fixture list every year.
They’re matches that will be much more intriguing if both sides in LA are competitive next season.
Kurt Larson covers Toronto FC for the Toronto Sun and the Canadian national teams for Postmedia in Canada.