Galaxy seeks continuity with Vagenas

About two days ago, it hit me that Monday’s “press conference about the Galaxy” had to include a front office hiring. I would have updated my blog, but hey, football.

It’s somewhat common for sports franchises to call press conferences without being specific. The idea is to get the press gossiping and create buzz. The problem is, with mass layoffs coming in waves in print journalism, there aren’t that many people to buzz about anything, especially pro soccer in America.

Anyway, former Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas was named general manager Monday, replacing Bruce Arena, who left to rescue the United States men’s national team from the abyss. Vagenas previously oversaw much of the Galaxy’s operations, from youth academies to the big club. The promotion feels like the right thing to do.

Vagenas’ first step is to find a manager who can get more out of the roster than smugness. There was a perception by MLS fans that the Galaxy underachieved the last two seasons. If continuity is a goal, Vagenas already knows Dave Sarachan is off the market. The assistant quit with an eye on joining expansion LAFC next year. That leaves Curt Onalfo of the Galaxy’s lower-level affiliate, nicknamed “Los Dos.” Onalfo has previous MLS experience with Kansas City and Washington D.C.

Where it gets uniquely curious is the roster. The Galaxy had been adept at luring foreign superstars — albeit at the back end of their careers — to the U.S. Arena was presumably their salesman for that. What could Vagenas offer in a rumored bidding war with two other MLS clubs for Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira?

The Galaxy lost two, possibly three, offensive weapons in the last month. Steven Gerrard retired and Robbie Keane is looking elsewhere. Vagenas’ first call might be to gauge Landon Donovan’s interest in continuing his comeback.

Ultimately, the path might depend on how much growth Vagenas saw in their academy teams. FC Dallas tried a similar approach and became surprisingly powerful. The question then becomes if youth — with Emmanuel Boateng and Gyasi Zardes — are what gets matched with midfielder Giovani Dos Santos. Arena never could solve the conundrum of matching Dos Santos with Gerrard and Keane. Perhaps speed becomes more valuable than guile.

The Rams have to fire Fisher before more damage is done

I’ve seen some curious reasons why teams fire their coaches and managers. The Lakers let Pat Riley go because they thought he had been there too long despite four titles in nine years, for Pete’s sake.

It’s somewhat obvious that Rams fans want coach Jeff Fisher to be fired. The reason, until the last two weeks, mostly escaped me. It’s not that the Rams sucked — although the defense surely did when they got their heads kicked in by New Orleans 49-21 Sunday. They’ve been competitive. They’ve rattled off the occasional upset to give their new fans hope.

None of that covers up the disturbing regression made by key Rams players. Instead of building around cornerstone players to make a run at a playoff berth this year, many of them have declined before our very eyes. That’s not just an indictment against a Fisher. It’s against the coaches that he hired.

Consider left tackle Greg Robinson, taken No.2 overall in the draft three years ago. These last two years, he’s committed four more penalties than anyone else in football. He was scratched from the lineup Sunday even though he’s healthy.

You might also recall how Aaron Donald was rated a Top 5 player in the league, a game-changing defensive tackle. That so-called disruptive force led a defense that allowed 49 points on Sunday.

And for that matter, why the hell did No.1 overall pick Jared Goff not take any snaps in a game until last week?

The Rams can’t run, can’t protect their quarterback and in one case, can’t drive sober.

There is no reason to believe he and the staff he hired have the wherewithal to counsel Goff into being an elite quarterback. Hell, they already had their chance with Sam Bradford.

Fisher’s gotta get run before he can do any more damage to the franchise.

Curbing the enthusiasm at Dodger StadiumĀ 

At some point, baseball sportswriters will give me whiplash from all the head shaking their brilliantly crafted flights of fantasy during the so-called hot stove league cause. In other words, if you thought every political pundit blew it on the presidential election — and except for Ann Coulter, they did — the sports department is following suit with their biannual roundup of all the great things the Dodgers are planning.

It’s all crap.

They’re not adding big-ticket free agents. If anything, they’ll be cutting payroll. It’s more likely they will bid adieu to virtually all of their free agents, including third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen.

But wait, fellow Dodgers fans wave their tablets in protest: Every website, even reputable ones such as ESPN, Fox and CBS, claim the Dodgers will go big-game hunting to catch up to the Cubs. After all, they have billions coming in from their TV deal and they attract almost 4 million fans every year. Besides, dammit, Magic Johnson wouldn’t let us down.

Oh, you’re going to be let down. An article in Saturday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times appears to have shed light on why the Dodgers have behaved like cheapskates since Andrew Friedman became the team’s grand poobah.

The upshot is this: The Dodgers lose money, lots of it. According to Forbes, they’re on the hook for as much as $400 million. You could even say all of that debt could be attributed to former owner Frank McCourt. The Guggenheim ownership group assumed $419 million in debt when it bought the team.

Moreover, the Dodgers are paying players handsomely for filling rosters on other teams, or for just staying at home. LA forked out $100 million to the likes of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Dee Gordon, etc.

Major League Baseball will only let a team have so much debt over time. The formula is 12 times annual revenue minus expenses. Should a team not lower that debt in a certain amount of time, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has 16 options for punishment. Those options include seeking league approval for any new expenses or suspending ownership/management.

What does that mean in the interim? The Dodgers $300 million payroll in 2015 is on a drastic downward arc. Think a cut of one-third from 2015 in a few years. Granted, a $200 million payroll should be a team that qualifies for the playoffs.

But improve enough to knock out the Cubs? That’s not happening next year unless Chicago gets destroyed by injuries.

I’m a Dodgers fan. I wish it weren’t so.

It is.

It’d be nice to read something hopeful about the Galaxy soon

I don’t expect opinions on Major League Soccer to lead to a spike in page views, but I find the LA Galaxy right now to be far more interesting — and troublesome — than anything social media has to say about the president-elect. That would be because I know virtually everybody’s opinion on the president-elect.

But what the hell is going to happen with the premiere franchise in MLS? I have no idea.

In less than two weeks, the winner of five MLS Cups — and possibly the only club that anyone overseas even notices about American soccer — lost two of its biggest names and its coach/general manager. One of those big names, striker Robbie Keane, is a former MVP and won three titles. Bruce Arena would have been in charge of filling multiple major holes in the roster, only he left Tuesday to rescue a confused and unmotivated United States national team.

We also have no idea if Landon Donovan, likely the greatest player in U.S. history, will return to the team or if he’s content having made a curtain call comeback so his family could see him play.

This is a talent drain both on the field and in the front office that couldn’t come at a worse time, especially after that foolish decision by the league to insert a second team in Los Angeles. Keep in mind: the league tried that before with Chivas USA and that team tanked so bad the league had to pay to keep the franchise afloat.

It’s hard to understate how important the Galaxy is to soccer in the United States. When the league struggled out of the gate more than 20 years ago, Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz purchased multiple teams to keep MLS afloat until it got its financial house in order. The Galaxy also brought welcome international attention to the league when it signed British legend David Beckham, which inspired average sports fans to give the team and soccer a chance.

Losing Arena, Keane, Donovan and Steven Gerrard is — admittedly on a much smaller scale — akin to the Pittsburgh Steelers losing Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethelisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. But for MLS, it’s a headache. It’s one thing for a signature franchise in the NFL to struggle. The NFL isn’t going anywhere if the Cowboys, Packers or Steelers stink for five years.

But MLS might become the fourth most-popular team sport if it continues to grow a fan base. In order to do that, simply put, the Galaxy can’t afford to suck.

The offseason isn’t particularly lengthy in MLS. Baseball ended at the start of this month. Opening day in the major leagues comes about a month after MLS kicks off.

The clock is ticking in Carson, Calif.

An open letter to Orlando city leaders regarding the Pulse nightclub

To Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer and The Honorable commissioners of the council,

For openers, this post is not meant as a rebuke to anyone working for the city or in the LGBTQ community. I mean no disrespect.

I am just not certain purchasing the land where the Pulse nightclub currently sits is the best idea. I understand that turning the site into a memorial is an idea from people who have their heart in the right place.

But if it were up to me, I’d want the club to open again.

I recognize that my opinion might be a little awkward. I am fully aware of what happened there. I went to high school with one of the victims. Also, I work about a block away, although I was not in the neighborhood when Omar Mateen acted on his evil intentions.

My assertion comes from two beliefs. The first: We often hear that when loved ones pass, they would want us to go on with life — to be happy, to appreciate beauty, to laugh, grow, and to dance. It is a hunch that would be the wish of the victims. 

True, there is at least one more LGBTQ club in Orlando. But I come from cities that have many more than one. I moved to central Florida from Hollywood, Calif. As you might imagine, there is a thriving community in that area. I’ve been in those clubs. I’ve seen more problems in other clubs, so perhaps bringing back the Pulse is more of a benefit to Orlando.

The second reason I think the Pulse should reopen is a bit primal. It’s not that everything President George W. Bush said was correct about the so-called war on terror, but I believe that having fewer LGBTQ clubs in Orlando does give the terrorists a victory. I do believe in an afterlife. I want Mateen — wherever he is right now — to realize that he did his worst and it did not benefit his twisted cause.

I want there to be a reopened Pulse with its patrons happy. I want that to be a figurative middle finger to Mateen, that he learns the depths of the failure of his ill-conceived principles. I want his dispicable acts to be a complete loss to him and those who harbor the same sickness at the core of their beings.

Perhaps the Pulse owners take the money — I don’t have an issue with the price tag reported — and use it to open a new Pulse at a different site. If that’s the result, so be it.

There’s a meme. I don’t know who created it, but it altered the logo of the club into a rainbow-flag themed heart. Underneath included the words, “We aren’t going anywhere.”

Well, don’t.

Major changes loom for the LA Galaxy

To say the pieces simply didn’t fit is an understatement. The names the LA Galaxy assembled were cornerstones for any franchise in Major League Soccer. The task was to mash as many cornerstones onto the pitch as possible.

The Galaxy couldn’t, after being eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs last week. Now, the marquee franchise of the league has no choice but to change.

I didn’t approach the subject last week because let’s face it: most of us were all worked up over the presidential election and its aftermath. But I’m tired of reading about that stuff, so here goes.

When the Galaxy first started playing a version of fantasy football instead of soccer, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem is that doing so suggests the franchise figured piling on international stars would simply overwhelm the rest of a league full of North Americans. As international fans will tell you, every continent has a fundamental different style of play. European clubs don’t play the same as South American clubs, for instance. Here in North America, the Galaxy took a sort of European/Mexican/American approach and as a consequence, I think there was little cohesion.

Put another way: Who was the go-to guy for the Galaxy? Robbie Keane? Giovani Dos Santos? Jelle VanDamme? Steven Gerrard? Hell, was it Landon Donovan with his brief comeback?

Consistently successful franchises have a plan, find the talent to fit the plan, and execute. The Galaxy was that type of franchise. Now it isn’t, so it’s incumbent upon the front office to simplify. Change is necessary.

Gerrard is likely the first to go. The former Liverpool midfielder suggested as much in a social media post that stated he will miss the city of Los Angeles. I don’t hate Gerrard. Seems like a great guy. He’s right. He didn’t fit.

This may sound absurd, but I think Keane might be next. He’s a free agent and the former MVP has suffered significant injuries the past two years.

The gut feeling is the team might purge older players and rebuild the team around Dos Santos, who is entering his physical prime, is among the leaders of a pretty damn good Mexican National Team and as a Latino, would blunt the competition for fans that expansion team LAFC will try to swipe.

A Galaxy team that returns next season with a healthy Gyasi Zardes with Emmanuel Boetang becomes lightning quick on offense, instead of one that chooses moments to counterattack. And an effective designated player signing, perhaps at midfield, would make up for the losses of two Europeans who are past their prime. Perhaps if Donovan is committed to a full offseason of training, that would be the guy to take.

I wouldn’t change a thing on defense. The Galaxy was effective there.

In the meantime, time’s a-wastin.’ Anyone who thinks the seasons in baseball or basketball is long hasn’t seen enough soccer to understand that we’ll be talking MLS sometime after Valentine’s Day.

How I knew Trump would win; no gloating

Up front: I have no idea if Donald Trump will make a good president.

Also, I make no analysis of policy here. I’m not here to gloat about a Trump victory I didn’t stump for. I’m not here to claim it’s about the wall or Hillary’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment. I have ideas, but of that I am not certain.

All I was certain of was what I saw in a swing state that I have lived in for the last year. I’ve been all over Florida, from the “redneck Riviera” of the panhandle to Miami. I learned what parts of Florida were deep red, deep blue and purple.

I knew before the national polling experts and pundits that Florida, at least for this election, would go for Trump. As such, so likely would the presidency. Here’s how:

You might have heard about the “I-4 corridor” in the national news. Interstate 4 cuts through central Florida like a backslash on a keyboard, from Daytona Beach, westward through Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. It’s a curious 133-mile long swath of the state, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It includes the site of NASCAR’s signature event, Disney World, franchises from the top five team sports in the USA and a gorgeous drive across Tampa Bay.

It’s also noteworthy in that north of the interstate is blood-dripping Republican red — Jacksonville, the Panhandle, etc. South of I-4, by a three-hour drive on the turnpike, Miami is midnight Democrat blue. So I-4, which has both urban areas and rural, is mixed. Win I-4. You likely win the state. You also are in excellent position to win the presidency.

I often work in Sanford, infamous for the Trayvon Martin killing. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton held events in that little town. Trump drew thousands. Hillary drew hundreds.

When I leave Sanford, I take I-4 home. There are three pedestrian bridges before I reach my destination. For weeks, people lined the first bridge holding Trump/Pence signs. They also bought billboards on the side of the freeway and built their own on major roads. Not the campaign, mind you, regular people. Some signs were likely illegally placed on the side of the highway for Trump. I saw nothing for Hillary.

I also drove I-4 in its entirety to Tampa to see two NFL games. Same story, except for pedestrian bridges. I saw people shill for Trump at a tailgate for a Rams-Bucs game.

When the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, I saw people line the streets in front of Altamonte Mall with their “Make America Great Again” signs. I saw four get out the vote demonstrations last weekend before Election Day. These areas allegedly went for President Barack Obama in two elections. (I don’t know for sure. I wasn’t here.)

I saw the power of belief — where it wasn’t enough to simply vote. People had so much faith in the candidate they wanted to spread the word like gospel. Republicans don’t do that stuff. Democrats specialize in that.

I spent three days in the pro-Clinton Miami area and saw nothing like that. No bumper stickers. No flash mobs. Nothing.

This is something millions never saw in the press or in their own security bubble of California. When I tried to be the canary in the coal mine, I was shouted down by people who weren’t here. I was dismissed by people who claimed to know Florida would automatically vote Clinton because what California says goes.

Now many of you are shocked and angry. I tried to warn you.

Instead, you in California want to blame Florida, the same state that voted for Obama. That’s not a particularly fair response.

Here’s what you don’t know about Florida. Here, people say, “I like Hillary because…” or “I don’t like Hillary because…” In California, it’s “If you don’t like Hillary, eff you.” There’s a huge difference. Californians are not interested in political discourse. They are only interested in capitulation.

I never even argued in favor of Trump. Marco Rubio was my guy in the primaries, although I eventually voted for John Kasich because Rubio took the bait of Trump’s taunting. It didn’t sit well.

But on Election Night, I sat in an easy chair and watched my Facebook feed go from premature gloating to impatience and ultimately, rage. 

Permit me one nongloating political forecast: The Democrats and liberalism are not dead. They have four years to figure something out. Maybe they’ll even have an idea or two in time for the midterms. If I see energy for that outside of the Calibubble, I’ll be honest enough to let you know.

You won’t find female empowerment in a WWE “Cell”

Many of us take great pleasure in bad television. Sure, we all claim to our friends that we have nothing but award-winning programs on our DVR, shows that broaden our minds, move us deeply and inspire us to advance society. That’s all crap. “Maury” and his paternity test shows are on for a reason.

For me, WWE is such a guilty pleasure. I’ve been watching “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown Live” for years. I know what I’m watching. Telling me I’m wasting time watching a fake outcome is like me telling a girl at the theater “You know there really isn’t a phantom of the opera, right?” We know. We’re watching to be entertained.

I can even watch when WWE makes attempts at a social conscience. If WWE wants to switch its female performers from Playboy models in R-rated matches to athletic women with regular storylines, I don’t have an issue with that.

Except for this week’s “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view. I do have a problem with that. Sunday, in the headlining match, Charlotte Flair defeated Sasha Banks to win the WWE Women’s Championship inside a giant enclosed steel cage. It was called “historic,” “epic” and “main-event worthy.” It was called taking women’s athleticism to the next level.

It was too much.

I realize this could make me look incredibly old-fashioned. I take no pleasure in watching women do violent things. And Hell in a Cell is billed as one of WWE’s most violent matches. The bigger the stunt, the more risky the outcome. You can’t fake some of those moves in a “Cell” match being incredibly painful. 

Injuries are enough of a risk in regular matches. Every year, the WWE inducts legends into a Hall of Fame. Many of the inductees are crippled.

I just can’t wrap my brain or my conscience around the idea of women intentionally hurting each other in a steel cage for my entertainment.

Charlotte, who many of you know is the daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, has elevated her game so much in the last year to where she is rightfully being considered among the all-time greats in women’s wrestling. She and Banks have put on some highly skilled matches in the last year that do, in fact, make it easier to forget the somewhat sleazy women’s matches from the 1990s.

So this isn’t a question of their abilities. Regular wrestling matches with deft storytelling is a treat. They excel at that.

But Charlotte power-bombing Banks through the announcers’ table? I think that needs to be left to the men. I don’t think that’s chauvinistic.

Put it this way: On every WWE DVD, the company runs a disclaimer that tells viewers that bodies have been broken, careers ended in an instant, and that despite it being just entertainment, the injuries and hazards are real. So put a feminine pronoun in front of that. Her body was broken. Her career ended in an instant. For your entertainment, her injuries are real.

Kinda makes me feel a little uneasy.

The fact that it’s woman-to-woman violence doesn’t lessen that vibe.

Wrestling fans adore Mick Foley, who became a legend for his stunts in Hell in a Cell. His performances were so startling other wrestlers genuinely feared for him. He survived his Hell in a Cell matches. But you can argue the guy hasn’t been able to walk right for at least 15 years.

So the idea that Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks are tempting that fate? Because pro wrestlers love to up the ante for a crowd pop?

I’ll pass on watching.

Because I don’t want to see Charlotte or Sasha Banks enter the WWE Hall of Fame in a wheelchair later.