The lessons of 2017, and what the Galaxy can build on for 2018
CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy had no illusions when its golden era under Bruce Arena came to a halt late last fall. 2017 was going to be a tough year, and the transition to whatever LA would become would require time.
Patience, it turned out, was in short supply. A seemingly endless parade of injuries left the side too young, too thin, and in no way prepared to battle MLS' elite. The results were what you might expect. Only worse.
LA has just one goal in four games since Sigi Schmid stepped in for Onalfo on July 27 and hasn’t scored in 264 minutes. The team has conceded 20 goals in the last eight games and, on the season, is 1-7-4 at home. That’s not a typo; LA had lost just six home games over the previous four seasons. LA’s winless streak is at nine games, and the right confluence of results this weekend would leave the Galaxy at the bottom of MLS for the first time in at least a decade.
It's been worse than this, at this point in the campaign, only once before. LA was 5-13-6 after 24 games a decade ago, in David Beckham's first season, but that 24th game was the first of five successive victories that lifted the team out of last place. Three more defeats in the last 10 games would tie the club record for losses in a season.
There's a lot more numbers where those come from, but they all add up to a lost season that offers no guarantee things will get better in 2018. And the timing couldn't be worse. Los Angeles FC kicks off next year just a dozen miles up the 110 freeway, and it looks like it's going to be something special.
The Galaxy have been MLS' signpost club for the past decade, the one American team any football fanatic around the globe can identify. By next March, it might be second-best in its own market.
This either has tremendous significance -- another step in a once-great club's demise -- or little at all. Southern California can certainly support two big clubs, and if the buzz propels LAFC next year, the Galaxy know how best to combat it: Build another winner.
Schmid has done so three times before -- in LA, Columbus, and Seattle -- and unless the last two months of this campaign are truly disastrous, general manager Peter Vagenas, a player under Schmid three times over, will grant him the chance next season.
Let's look at what's gone right, what's gone wrong, and what LA needs to address going forward.
French winger Romain Alessandrini has been a revelation, and he's played a direct role in 21 of the 27 goals LA has scored when he's been on the field. The team's current scoring slump has much to do with his ailing knee.
Jonathan dos Santos' energy and versatility has impressed since his debut early this month. More will be demanded of him once he's fully fit and in form.
There's a surplus of men in the middle and on the flanks; or, there would be if everyone would just get healthy. Sebastian Lletget's been out nearly all year, and Alessandrini, Giovani Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, Joao Pedro and Baggio Husidic have spent time on the sidelines, too. With nearly every midfielder missing time, chemistry hasn't been what it ought to be.
Alessandrini and Dos Santos had a nice thing going before the Confederations Cup, and Joao Pedro's been solid since finding his footing about two months into the campaign. Emmanuel Boateng's explosiveness is the the team’s best weapon at the moment, and Lletget’s return should be a huge plus.
There's a lot to work with, although we'll see if Jones sticks around.
Youngsters getting time
Onalfo, as Galaxy II coach, had great confidence in the youngsters he brought into the first team, but too much was asked of too many of them, especially when a half-dozen were on the field at the same time.
That's the foundation of LA's lousy record, but the plus is a lot of them have gotten valuable experience. Jack McBean, who's been around for awhile, has grown as a target forward. Bradford Jamieson IV has done some good things with the ball and in recovery after losing it. Frenchman Bradley Diallo has shown promise in the back.
They've all made a lot of mistakes, and some might not be long-timers, but there's material to work with next winter.
Too many injuries
Every team deals with injuries, and the Galaxy have done so this year to devastating effect.
Two starters -- Lletget and right back Robbie Rogers -- have been out all year, and Rogers might not be coming back. Two of the three goalkeepers have missed significant time. The backline has been in flux all year, and nearly everybody in midfield has missed a game or six.
Gyasi Zardes, after recovering from the fifth-metatarsal injury that derailed him last year, needed preseason knee surgery, and he's still trying to find his best game. He's playing up front, primarily, and hasn't scored.
Mistakes at the back
LA's defensive reputation has taken quite a pummeling. That's what happens when you deal away your depth; A.J. DeLaGarza's draft-day departure to Houston has resonated all year. Too many goals have been conceded after turnovers in midfield or at the edge of the defensive third. Runners get free too often on set pieces, and errant positioning has aided opponents' attacks far too often.
Everyone has had lapses -- Van Damme was so bad one evening that Onalfo pulled him after 30 -- and Brian Rowe's and Clement Diop's errors in the nets have been costly. Schmid went with Jon Kempin in goal Wednesday, and he saved two penalty kicks.
Well below par
The players that need to do the heaviest lifting haven't, Alessandrini aside.
Days of David
Van Damme was so good last year, but this year? No. He seemed to try to do too much and kept putting his foot wrong. Eight yellow cards and three reds in 18 games, the reds all on stupid second yellows, and then he hightailed it back home to Belgium.
Jones has been hit and miss, mostly the latter, in midfield, and Giovani dos Santos' tendency to disappear in games hasn't helped, especially with so much inexperience up top.
Schmid, after the loss to NYCFC, was asked what was needed. “A center forward …,” he said. “Someone who is very comfortable finishing goals.”
This has been a problem from the first day of preseason, when Onalfo defended his corps of forwards, citing the depth he was bringing up from USL while largely playing Zardes and dos Santos in midfield. Now the DP slots are sewn up, so the team will need to spend some TAM to bring in somebody who has a real nose for the net.
Help at the back
Van Damme's departure isn't necessarily unwelcome, but it leaves a hole. LA has been linked to 33-year-old French free agent Michael Ciani, whose resume includes stops at Lazio, Espanyol, Sporting Clube and Bordeaux and a single cap for Les Bleus.
Rosters freeze on Sept. 15. Daniel Steres and David Romney are the men in the middle for now, but LA needs an elite center back, whether or not that's Ciani. Pele van Anholt has been a useful pickup at right back, but left back Ashley Cole, whose intelligence has been valuable, will be gone at season's end. His contract is up, Birmingham City wants him, and he'll make far more money in England than here.
Romney is a natural left back, but more competition for starting jobs would be healthy. And is Kempin the answer in the nets? If not, finding a top-class keeper is a priority.
A real leader
Van Damme had captain experience, so it made sense to give him the armband when Robbie Keane departed. He was better without it. Cole served (and serves) as captain in his absence, but he's gone. Jones can be talismanic, but that mercurial quality doesn't always translate in the locker room, and would anyone be surprised if he doesn't return?
Giovani dos Santos isn't a natural leader, although he's at his best when he's forced to take charge. Jonathan's presence might be the trigger he needs. We'll see.
The Galaxy need someone who can spur everyone one, the way Keane did from the moment he arrived. The Irishman's scoring touch has certainly been missed, but his leadership skills are another quality LA hasn't been able to replace.