There’s no point in saying “I told you so” about Greg Vanney and the LA Galaxy when the prevailing wisdom was that he was the perfect fit for his former club and the proof will be in the pudding anyway.
The question today is no longer, “Will the Galaxy hire Greg Vanney?” That question was answered on Tuesday (finally). The job — his job — and the responsibility that comes with it is not theoretical or assumed anymore. It’s very real, and it starts now. Yesterday, in fact.
So what must Vanney do to change the Galaxy’s fortunes, both short- and long-term, and return LA to the ranks of not just contenders but Cup-winners and torchbearers? He’s got his work cut out for him, but here are three places to start.*
*It goes without saying that signing Cristian Pavon to a permanent deal would be the ideal starting point, but that’s not really in the new manager’s control!
As the midfield goes, so will the Gs
The Galaxy have Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan Dos Santos, two of the best and most complete midfielders in the entire league, and yet they very rarely controlled where and how games were played over the past three seasons. That’s a problem that needs solving. The midfield and the battles waged within are the crux of the modern game.
Want to do something in the final third other than whip in cross after unfruitful cross? Unbalance the opposition with purposeful possession or key the counter with coordinated pressure, a timely decision or two and some technical excellence once the ball is won.
Want that shaky backline to stabilize without a complete rebuild? Make their jobs more predictable from a defensive standpoint and provide reliable outlets to play through once the ball is won.
Watch: Landon Donovan on how to restore the soul of the LA Galaxy
I’ll repeat for emphasis: win the ball and have a concerted plan once you have it. Too often in recent years the Galaxy haven’t seemed to be on the same page in either of those regards. Tear the Zlatan band-aid off and, well, here we are.
Dos Santos and Lletget are a pretty prime starting point, and there are solid veteran options and an open transfer window to play with. Vanney can’t control whether the Mexican international can or will stay healthy for a full season, but it’s clear from his Toronto FC teams that he knows how to construct a balanced midfield that brings out the best from the players around them.
He also recruited/developed players in those positions, which brings us to…
Help the young core level up/create an academy pathway
Good teams get contributions from their young players and those contributions grow year over year. Play your kids. Develop your kids. Avoid the salary cap monster, as Tim Bezbatchenko told my guy David Gass on A Football Podcast recently. In MLS, that means via both homegrown players and transfer acquisitions. In a perfect world, you end up with either an international-caliber starter (Osorio etc.) or a seven-figure transfer that nets serious allocation money and yet more cap wiggle room … or maybe both depending on how it goes.
Which brings us to the Galaxy, who ought to be leading the charge when it comes to talent development in MLS given the richness of their catchment area and investment in the academy and USL side. LA ought to be right there with FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union. They are … not. Julian Araujo is great start. Efrain Alvarez has all the tools, but needs to make the jump from prospect to week-to-week difference-maker. Ethan Zubak got a little run in Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez's stead in 2020.
Watch: Efrain Alvarez scores against Portland
And that’s about it for first-team contributors aged 22 or younger. This is where Vanney comes in and changed the culture and pathway. He’s got youth development experience in spades. He did good work in Toronto, though you get the feeling he’d have liked to make even more tangible headway when it came to linking the academy to the first team.
In LA, Vanney steps into the perfect petri dish. The raw ingredients are there. He can focus on helping Araujo become an international player and top MLS fullback. He can be the coach who helps Alvarez, who reportedly made massive strides with his approach to the professional side of the game in 2020, realize his vast potential. He can widen the pipeline from academy to USL to the Galaxy first team.
If Vanney can do those things, it’ll slowly change the club’s culture, change first-team results and change what he is able to get from the team’s biggest star...
Coax games and goals out of Chicharito
I thought about listing the no-duh part first. Javier Hernandez is the big investment that needs to come good. He’s the face of the team. He’s the Galactico.
But Chicharito isn’t Zlatan, and he needs more than just minutes to score the goals the Galaxy need (and are paying for from him). He needs service (see Pavon, midfield cohesion, a plan). He needs consistency and to be part of something bigger than a one-man band (see club culture).
Vanney is the man to deliver those things. The job started yesterday.