Uh, what the hell, guys?

A gif is worth a thousand words:

The Galaxy were the feel-good story of the first four months of the season, seeming to put years of uneven and uninspiring play behind them behind Greg Vanney’s arrival and Chicharito’s revival.

Then mid-August came and they plopped straight into the toilet, finishing the season with a 2W-6L-6D stretch that saw them miss the playoffs on the final day of the season. Just brutal.

This goes into the pantheon of great regular-season collapses.

Formation and tactics

It’s a Vanney team, so they were certain to be a ball-dominant side, and that’s the way it bore out. LA were at or near the top of the charts in everything having to do with the ball – possession, passes per possession, total passes, time in possession, chances created via possession, etc. – as per Second Spectrum’s tracking data. That didn’t happen instantly, but Vanney got this group there pretty quick.

In terms of formation it’s more of a work in progress, and thus the Galaxy were all over the map. 4-4-2 diamond? Check. 3-5-2? Check. 4-3-3? Check. 4-2-3-1? Check. They even finished the season in kind of an old-fashioned 4-4-2 with a double pivot and two “wide” midfielders who pinched in to become playmakers, and fullbacks bombing forward to create width.

All of it was pretty good with the ball and pretty disastrous without it. The Galaxy’s midfield was soft, and no matter the formation or personnel, there was a huge gap between the d-mids and center backs where opposing playmakers went to work.

Highlights

I need to reach way back in time here and go all the way to the first game of the season. It was the opening salvo in what turned into LA’s super-promising 8-4-0 start to the year – the type of start a playoff team would make – but it also seemed to be so, so much more than that.

And that’s because of Chicharito. After maybe the most miserable 2020 imaginable, he opened 2021 by scoring a brace, twice cashing in an equalizer before Sacha Kljestan’s late winner for the 3-2 final in Miami. He looked like classic, peak Chicharito:

Nobody in the history of our region has been as great a goal-poacher as the Little Pea. There is no snark there – I mean that 100% as a compliment. He’s brilliant at it.

But what he did next overshadowed the goals, and even the result. What he did next was give one of the best postgame interviews I’ve ever seen. I encourage you to watch all of it:

Life is hard, man. Even if you’re a multi-millionaire, superstar athlete, life is hard. It can get you down and grind you down and throw stuff at you that you can’t handle all on your own, and when that happens, sometimes it’s hard to even know how to ask for help.

To see Chicharito out there saying that … it was a moment of vulnerability and realness I felt privileged to get to see. It just made me happy on a human level that he got to live and play with joy again, and his teammates seemed to feel the same way.

Lowlight

Uh, everything that happened after Aug 14? They beat Minnesota 1-0 on that date, wouldn’t win again for two months and only won twice more all year. The bottom dropped out.

Obviously there were worse results along the way than the 3-3 home draw against an Ozzie Alonso-less Loons side on Decision Day, but that’s justifiably the one most folks will remember. The defense was a wreck, the gap between the center backs and central midfielders was criminal, and the Galaxy had it all to play for in front of their home fans.

And it just didn’t happen.

Revelation

I hesitate to call Julian Araujo’s wonderful season (minus that Decision Day own goal, anyway) a “revelation” since basically everyone except Guillermo Barros Schelotto thought he could be this kind of player.

But the fact is he started the year as a teenage Homegrown(ish) product who’d never regularly started at right back for the first team before, and he finished it with 32 starts, logging nearly 2800 minutes and registering seven assists and damn near countless miles covered up and down the flank.

Araujo’s not technically a Homegrown, but still… the Galaxy needed this. They’re in one of the most talent-rich areas of North America and need to start progressing that talent up the ladder, into the first team and then into one of the available national teams (good luck in green, Julian!).

They need it not only for the health of their academy system but because the local guys are better than a lot of the players they’ve been signing.

Disappointment

Yeah … most of the signings were not great. Let’s take it all with a grain of salt since, as we’ve seen from the likes of Hany Mukhtar, Cristian Dajome and Chicharito himself, it’s hard to walk right into MLS and start producing. A lot of guys have to wait til year two.

But the Galaxy spent a lot of money to buy Kevin Cabral and Dejan Jovelic. They handed out eye-popping contracts to those two, plus invested considerably in Samuel Grandsir, Derrick Williams, Niko Hamalainen, Rayan Raveloson and Sega Coulibaly.

Of that entire crop of newcomers, only Raveloson was starting caliber in 2021. That is a worrying hit rate.

2022 Preview

Five Players to Build Upon:

  • Chicharito (FW): 17g/3a in a touch over 1700 minutes, and he was the best player on the field on Decision Day. He’ll be 34 next year but if he stays healthy, I’m betting he can better those numbers.
  • Raveloson (DM): A classy, ball-playing, deep-lying midfielder in his prime, Raveloson was a lot of fun to watch. LA might want to find him a ball-winning bodyguard, though.
  • Araujo (RB): If he’s not sold this winter he’s got a chance to be the best right back in MLS, an attacking force with the athleticism and nous to get back and defend.
  • Sebastian Lletget (CM/AM/W): Just a steady two-way player who can and does plug holes all over the field.
  • Cabral (W/FW): I’m a big “trust the underlying numbers guy” so I’ve got to trust the fact that Cabral – who found a lot of good chances – will eventually progress to the mean with his finishing, even if he doesn’t really do much of anything else.

Offseason Priority:

See that list above? I struggled to make it. It was hard to get to five names, and that has to be terrifying given the number of new signings that were brought in over the past two windows.

So that the means the main job this winter is less about bringing in yet more new faces and more about making sure 1) there is a plan to get more out of the guys who are already here, and 2) figuring out what’s wrong with the talent ID and recruitment processes that’s made it so difficult for one of the biggest-spending teams in the league to bring in players capable of making an immediate impact.

Only after they’ve done their homework on that should they consider how they want to fill the DP slot opened by what I’m assuming will be Jonathan dos Santos’s departure.

If they get that wrong it won’t matter how good a coach Vanney is (to be clear: he’s very good). Sooner or later talent is the ultimate decider and the Galaxy have to stop spending gobs of money on guys who maybe don’t have enough of it.