This was all setting up LA’s triumphant return to the top of the standings in 2023, surely. They were great with the ball, had their superstars and their solid veterans and their promising kids, and had a proven game model and a coach who’s won a ton of stuff in this league.
“I'd like to see us in [Concacaf] Champions League next year,” is what that head coach, Greg Vanney, said way back in winter. “I think we're a club that should be present inside Champions League year in and year out, that should be an objective for us.
“And I think we should be ultimately closer to the Supporters’ Shield race, if not at the top. That shows the consistency that we want to get out of our group over the course of 34 games in a season, is to have less up and down, to have more consistency.”
Ah, well, nevertheless.
I do think the Galaxy were probably a bit better than their record this year – they had awful luck with injuries, and awful luck with goalkeeping, and just awful luck with luck.
But not that much better. They were a disaster any time they were without the ball this season, and for long stretches they weren’t particularly good with it, either.
In short, the Galaxy were not, in fact, back.
Formation & Tactics
Vanney believes in the 4-3-3, and at times this season that was to his team’s detriment, because for a good chunk of the year the fullbacks were better as wingbacks and the wingers were better on the bench. I wrote, just about every week, how the personnel was better suited to a 3-5-2 (really a 3-4-1-2 with Riqui as a true 10 in front of a double pivot) than they were to a 4-3-3 or even a 4-2-3-1.
But Chicharito tore his ACL in June and Dejan Joveljić never got out of first gear, so we only saw a two-striker formation sporadically. And to be fair to Tyler Boyd and Douglas Costa, both were pretty good in the second half of the year, so wingers eventually made sense.
Whatever the formation, LA attempted to be a ball-dominant side that wanted to create rhythm in possession. Often they were quite good at it, even if they did end up settling for crosses too often once they reached the final third.
Honestly, I’m having trouble coming up with one. Maybe you could argue it was knocking out Seattle and LAFC in back-to-back US Open Cup rounds back in the spring? Galaxy fans haven’t often gotten one over on either of those teams in recent years, so it’s kind of a take-what-you-can-get scenario.
Pure fox-in-the-box stuff from the veteran, who should teach a class on movement inside the 18.
But that really is about it, unless you want to count the fan boycott that finally led to front-office change. Will Kuntz was brought in as senior VP of player personnel, club president Chris Klein was dismissed and Vanney is now both head coach and sporting director.
They had a good summer despite working within the constraints of sanctions for Klein’s previous cap transgressions. They’ll need a big winter to make real progress, though.
Pop open the schedule and toss a dart.
There’s just way too many low points to choose from – no wins in seven to start the year; one win in 10; late leads turned into draws, late draws turned into losses; devastating injuries. It’s all there.
This moment, however, stands alone:
How’s that for veteran leadership?
Jalen Neal wasn’t great, but for a 19-year-old he spent a lot of time being a very, very good center back. Players with his combination of physical, technical and tactical gifts don’t come along all that often, and there’s a real belief in LA that they will develop him into the type of player who’s sold for many millions of dollars to a massive European club.
Given all the talent in Southern California, the Galaxy should’ve done that a half-dozen times by now. But they’re still looking for their first real breakout homegrown player.
Neal, who turned 20 near the end of the summer, appears to be it.
Dejan Joveljić had 11g/3a in just under 1000 minutes last year. With Chicharito struggling to start this season, then injured through the rest of it, this should’ve been the Serb’s chance to stake an iron grip on the starting role.
He instead let it slip through his fingers and, as of writing, he’s got just 5g/3a in 1,450 minutes.
That’s been something of a disaster, to the point that I’m not sure Joveljić will be back next year.
Five Players to Build Around
- Riqui (AM): A genius with the ball, but he needs adequate defensive protection behind him. I still think he and the Galaxy both would be better off in a double pivot.
- Neal (CB): As long as he’s healthy, it’s hard to imagine he’s not a starter.
- Boyd (LW): 8g/4a across all competitions, and lots of running. Not great, but certainly not bad.
- Mark Delgado (CM): Works relentlessly and just about always makes the right play.
- Calegari (RB): Was a reliable two-way fullback before an ACL tear ended his season in September.
Both Costa and Chicharito are reportedly out of contract, so the Galaxy should have two open DP slots. Maybe more (we'll see if any roster rules change for 2024).
There’s other stuff they need to worry about, for sure – d-mid is an issue, and I’m not sold on their central defense, and right back is a worry until Calegari comes back, and at some point they need a come-to-Jesus moment about Jonathan Bond, because there’s more than enough evidence now that says he’s not a starting-caliber ‘keeper – but the number one thing they’ve got to get right is those high-end signings.
Puig is fantastic. Give him a high-end playmaking winger and a lethal No. 9 to play with, and the Galaxy will cook. It’s all right there for them.
They can not miss on these signings again. They have to get it right.