Why Bradley, Schmid hires could be win-win for brewing LA soccer wars
The war for the hearts and minds of Southern California soccer fans took a sharp turn Thursday morning when the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC announced, one atop the other, that they had secured the services of the two greatest unemployed American coaches.
The Galaxy struck first with news that Sigi Schmid was taking the reins after first-year coach Curt Onalfo's dismissal. It marks the return of a hometown boy who guided LA to its first MLS Cup title in 2002 and was controversially canned with the club atop the Western Conference standings two years later.
Not 90 minutes after that announcement, LAFC -- preparing for next year's launch -- unveiled Bob Bradley, who turned Chivas USA into a winner before heading off to the U.S. men’s national team, as its first coach.
Come afternoon, the Galaxy struck again, confirming that their chase to sign Villarreal's Jonathan dos Santos, the younger brother of LA star Giovani dos Santos, was complete.
Was it one-upsmanship to its finest? The timing can't possibly be coincidence, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Both teams deny it, of course, and ultimately it's all just dog-and-pony show. The real news here isn't the rivalry, it's that the rivals have abruptly gone old-school, making safe but canny decisions about their futures. This could be win-win-win.
Bradley wasn't the sexiest name among those discussed for the new club's head-coaching post, but he's among the country's sharpest minds, and he knows exactly what he's getting into.
Bradley, 59, knows MLS and the American system intimately, and he'll provide LAFC with a strong technical foundation and winning culture. Fans might have preferred someone more akin to Tata Martino at Atlanta United -- and it would have been interesting to see where that might have led -- but Bradley is proven in this league, and his homecoming is welcome.
Criticism that dips into Chivas USA's past diminishes LAFC misses the greater point. The old Goats enjoyed a fine four-year run before things turned south in 2010, and Bradley was the architect. Had Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo not gone down with end-of-season injuries, MLS might have had a different champion in 2007.
Schmid's appointment is comparable to Bruce Arena's with the national team. Like Arena, who left the Galaxy last fall to save the Yanks' World Cup hopes, the 64-year-old German-born Angeleno needs to rescue a floundering side that's waffling through a difficult post-Arena transition. LA has suffered through an injury crisis with young, inadequate depth, falling to 6-10-4 (and 1-6-3 at home) and ninth in the Western Conference after losing its last five league games. Throw in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal defeat, and the streak is six, with 18 goals conceded.
Giovani dos Santos, LA's most visible figure, spoke out following the StubHub Center loss to Vancouver a week ago, noting that “our ticket to the playoffs will be out of reach soon” and that “in any other part of the world, our situation would be managed differently.”
The Galaxy approached Schmid, whom the Seattle Sounders jettisoned a year and a day ago, at the beginning of the week. He's MLS' winningest coach, with 228 regular-season victories and 26 more in the playoffs, and he's captured MLS Cup titles and Supporters' Shields with two clubs. He has won five U.S. Open Cup championships and guided LA's 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup triumph. Only Arena has the glossier MLS résumé.
Schmid, who coached LA general manager Pete Vagenas at UCLA and with the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, serves as a link to the club's first great era, at the turn of the century. He knows the team and the market intimately -- he grew up in the city, just around the block from LAFC's new digs -- and the club always has occupied a place in his heart.
That despite his stunning firing midway, so LA could bring in former U.S. coach Steve Sampson, midway through the 2004 season. The club won an MLS Cup under Sampson the following year, but Schmid's firing heralded a long, steep decline that was halted only by Arena's arrival in August 2008.
Arena's U.S. return coincided with the departures of several key players, including captain Robbie Keane, as the Galaxy promoted several young players from its reserve team, which Onalfo had coaches, to provide depth. They've been tested severely and often found wanting.
Schmid's assignment will be to right things as quickly as possible, make a reasonable run for a postseason berth, and begin putting the necessary pieces together as LA looks toward next year and beyond.
Jonathan dos Santos, like his brother a Mexican national-teamer, is a big piece of this year's push and the greater rebuild. He bolsters a midfield that's been in flux all year and, more important, provides Schmid a deeper core to rebuild around. His arrival appears to signal that LA will not be signing aging Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So who won the latest battle in L.A.'s soccer war? It depends on perspective, but the clubs themselves -- as opposed to those who root for them -- are concerned with more important issues.
The timing Thursday likely was coincidence. LAFC had been planning the Bradley announcement for several days. The Galaxy just wrapped its talks with Schmid, who will debut Saturday night at StubHub against, yes, the Sounders, and with dos Santos. Everything fell into place at the same time.