The LA Galaxy have long been the gold standard of MLS clubs.
They have won MLS Cup (five times) more than anyone in league history and are tied for the most Supporters' Shields (four, with D.C. United.) They're the team of Landon Donovan (sorry, Earthquakes fans). They brought David Beckham to MLS and changed the league. It's the land of Cobi Jones, Robbie Keane, Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena. They made the playoffs in 17 of their first 20 years of existence.
But the Galaxy have been far from exemplars in recent years.
As MLS has evolved, the Galaxy have struggled to stay anywhere near the top. They made the playoffs just one time in their last four seasons and had the displeasure of being eliminated by rivals LAFC 5-3. This year they took another step back, clearing last place in the West by just one point.
It's clear to all that the trajectory urgently needs changing.
“We’re heading into a crucial offseason, evaluating everything," Galaxy president Chris Klein told reporters on a virtual press conference Thursday. "It starts with me. I hold my hand up for the results that are not up to our standards this year and the last couple years.”
Instead of leaning on their past, the Galaxy are plotting a new way forward.
“We need to take a step back to have a much more clear idea of what is our identity," GM Dennis te Kloese said. "I heard a question about a lack of culture, and that’s a fair question. The league has changed dramatically in the last 5-10 years. To go to earlier stages of the Galaxy is something to be proud of, but not to rely upon how to go forward.”
“We need to compete," te Kloese added later. "There’s no way that after a year like this, after a decent start in my first year, that next year we won’t compete.”
There are a lot of elements that must be accounted for as te Kloese and the Galaxy look to revive the team's fortunes on the field. Here is what they said about each of them:
The Galaxy parted ways with Guillermo Barros Schelotto on October 29 after a run of one win in 10 matches, leaving the club at the bottom of the Western Conference.
One regular critique of Schelotto's tenure was his team lacked an identity, a style. It looked more a collection of talent than a cohesive unit with a well-drilled plan. The profile the Galaxy are looking for in their next head coach is one with a defined identity, as well as someone adept at working with young players.
“This is a good project," te Kloese said. "We need to be looking at coaches who are hungry, eager to make something out of this. I know Los Angeles and the Galaxy is something glamorous, but people who work here need to be here for the right reasons. We need to show much more ambition than we showed in the last few years.”
Neither te Kloese nor Klein opted to put a timeline on when they expect to appoint their new manager.
Extratime: Ideal Galaxy coach already in MLS
The Galaxy have received interest in the vacancy from coaches across the globe and are beginning to go through their preliminary search. Te Kloese noted that current interim head coach Dominic Kinnear is among the candidates who will be considered.
Kinnear is a well-respected name around MLS. He got his first head coaching gig with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2004 and won the Supporters' Shield the next season. The franchise moved to Houston where he continued on as head coach of the Dynamo from 2005-14, twice winning MLS Cup. He is one of the winningest head coaches in MLS history.
Te Kloese will have complete control of the search, according to Klein. He added he has full confidence in te Kloese's ability to lead the team forward.
“Dennis has created his profile and a list of candidates that we’re at the beginning stages of starting to look to," Klein said. "Once he goes through that process, he’ll have a discussion with me then we’ll bring it to ownership for approval.”
Pavon & Chicharito
As always with the Galaxy, the focus is on the stars.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez had a difficult debut season in MLS — as you may have heard! — leading to rumors that suggested he'd cut his sojourn with the Galaxy to just one disappointing season, but the expectation is that he'll return in 2020.
“It’s been a difficult year for Javier," Klein said. "I spent a while with Javier a few weeks ago. We sat down, he very passionately laid out where he is. I’ll leave it to him to speak more but it was a position of responsibility and commitment. Commitment to the club, to me, to ownership and most importantly, to his teammates and the fans. We saw glimpses of that over the last two games. It didn’t have the impact on our season that we wanted, but it gives hope what he can provide us going forward. With his history, he’s a very good player. He can score goals in our league. We look forward to him returning and regaining that form.”
Chicharito bags his second of 2020
Chicharito had only two goals in 758 minutes, limited to just seven starts due to injury and poor form.
Cristian Pavon, meanwhile, did not struggle. In fact, he was one of the club's few bright spots in 2020, a consistent goal-contributing presence in attack. The Argentine international had 10 goals and seven assists while starting every one of the Galaxy's 22 matches.
The problem is that his loan from Boca Juniors expires at the end of the year. He reportedly has a $20 million purchase option in that deal, a figure that Galaxy aren't keen on spending.
“Cristian’s intentions are very solid on staying here," te Kloese said. "It speaks for itself that the club are happy with his performance. When the deal was done… the transfer market and everything around international transfers has changed dramatically. Hopefully we’ll find a good solution in the upcoming weeks.”
Behind Pavon and Chicharito, the Galaxy have to make a number of improvements to the squad.
They have struggled defensively for a few years, and that was their main issue in 2020 as they conceded 56 goals. Only San Jose gave up more.
“If you go by this year, it’s pretty easy to see there hasn’t been any consistency or defensive balance," te Kloese said. "We were far too vulnerable when attacked upon. It has to do with a lot of things, it’s not only the defenders. It’s style. It’s how you want to defend, where you want to defend.”
The club will soon announce their end-of-season roster decisions, which will help shed light on how much flexibility they'll have in the offseason.
“We have a few players who are out of contract, a few players who we can take their options," te Kloese said. "Even in a tough year, we had some upsides. We have to take some decisions on bringing back players, then that will show by itself what positions we’re looking for."
It's not all doom and gloom. Pavon is among the most talented players in the league, and if he returns the attack will always have a chance to be productive. Chicharito has more than a decade worth of goalscoring data to show he's a lethal marksman. Jonathan dos Santos is among the league's top midfielders when healthy. Academy graduates Efra Alvarez and Julian Araujo took strides forward in 2020, too.
“Dennis has come in and laid a foundation we can build upon and we started," Klein said. "We saw some success last year, but this year it wasn’t good enough. It goes back to 2017, 2018. But we’re here now. We have some very good pieces.”