LA Galaxy changes focus from stars to cometsĀ 

A little more than 20 years ago, when Major League Soccer debuted, its teams carried these fanciful names like the Wiz, MetroStars, Clash and Burn. As you might imagine, the Clash and Burn pretty much crashed and burned.

Only four of the original 10 franchises kept their nicknames, including the LA Galaxy — a moniker chosen because the club wanted to be among the stars of Hollywood. Eventually, the Galaxy backed that up with some of soccer’s biggest names — David Beckham the most glitzy of the lot.

Before training camps in MLS opened last week, the so-called glamour franchise abandoned that idea in a roster purge. It’s a gamble, not just in terms of name recognition. It also might be to the Galaxy’s benefit.

Los Angeles, which opens the season March 4 vs. FC Dallas, reinvented itself over the last two seasons by building its starting 11 from the back line up. In the process, the Galaxy are younger and quicker. Pardon me for overplaying the puns regarding astronomy, but they’ve replaced stars with comets.

There was a time when the Galaxy’s international presence boosted the entire league. The Beckham signing years ago forced the hands of other clubs to lure big names that were past their prime. LA eventually created its own bidding war. After a couple of years, even having Beckham wasn’t enough. So the Galaxy acquired other foreign stars such as Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane. That was a lot of skill. It often led to a lot of goals. It also meant, for a league with a Byzantine salary cap, a drain on defense.

Other franchises across the league eventually took advantage of the Galaxy’s crumbling foundation. The big names — all in their mid 30s — couldn’t play 90 minutes twice a week, or were prone to injuries.

Ultimately, the exodus of talent from the roster at the end of last season — which also included Landon Donovan and coach Bruce Arena — might have been inevitable.

The changeover for LA began in earnest when it rebuilt its defense before the 2016 season. Led by Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, only one team was better in terms of conceding goals last year. The next step this last offseason was to rebuild the midfield. The Galaxy will feature three new starters there this season. The “name” addition is Jermaine Jones from the US national team, who is a bit past his prime at 35. The franchise’s hopes, though, appear to rest on Joao Pedro of Portugal and Romain Alessandrini of France.

Pedro, 23, is known for thinking defense first with quick decisions on where to pass. Alessandrini, who is supposed to join the team this week, is a speedster at 27. Their job is to get the ball to the Galaxy’s one remaining star, Mexican national Giovani Dos Santos.

For those of us oddballs who enjoy MLS and wondered what the hell the LA Galaxy was up to, we now know: These acquisitions substitute international reputation for functional versitility. It will be curious to see how that plays out for a franchise that has won MLS Cup five times. Indeed, it’s a brave new world.

Played right, Orlando City wins Molino deal

It’s been a few weeks — because it seems like the offseason lasts only a few weeks — since we’ve chatted up Major League Soccer. Training camps opened on my birthday, but I was too busy drinking wood grain alcohol and drowning in a pool of my own bitter tears to write then.

Speaking of bitter tears, let’s get to marginally disappointing Orlando City. In my opinion, if the Lions play their cards right, they will win yesterday’s trade that sent attacking midfielder Kevin Molino and a reserve goalkeeper you won’t remember to expansion Minnesota United.

Oh sure, former Orlando coach Adrian Heath needs experienced attack-minded players such as Molino. Heath has tended to coach with an offense-first mentality. Local fans loved the cherubic little dude for his unkempt shirt and how the blood pressure turned his face a near lobster red. They loved it because clearly, it showed Heath had passion.

Here’s the flaw: Passion diminishes intellect. Passion makes you overvalue people you like. An over-reliance on passion is a horrible trait in a coach or front office.

Minnesota gave up about $650,000 worth of salary cap relief for Molino, who probably wasn’t even the third-best player on the Orlando roster. The amount of help Heath just gave his former employers is a league record. Now, in the major team leagues across America, $650,000 isn’t a lot of money. In MLS, it’s really helpful.

We know a lot about Heath and passion-driven contracts. Orlando City SC made a splash before playing a single game by signing Brazilian superstar midfielder Kaka, who was the last player not named Messi to be regarded as the best player on the planet. Orlando City overpayed. The Lions have yet to reach MLS playoffs.

It bears repeating: Heath signed one of the best players on the entire planet and it still wasn’t enough to get a team to the playoffs in a league that is inferior to most of Europe, South America and possibly Asia.

You could also suggest the Heath-driven additions last season of Antonio Nocerino and Christian Higuita didn’t help, either.

Orlando City, under Heath, gambled on offense and gave up far too many reckless counterattacks. The Lions last year were third-worst in both goals conceded and yellow cards allowed. It’s a good idea to bring discipline to a team like that. It was s good idea to replace Heath with Jason Kreis.

Moreover, if the Lions use that cap relief and upgrade their defense, they win that trade.

Because they have enough offense-first players.

What the Lions need is some common sense to balance it out.

Forsythe a nice idea, but Dodgers aren’t there yet

Two rites of passage happen for many men every February.

They get optimistic because pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than three weeks. And the ones who don’t own a glove or bat pull out their spreadsheets and micromanage convoluted theories over which teams can win the World Series.

To wit, a group of well-meaning IT guys created a baseball stats think tank called Fangraphs. At this moment, thanks to the trade that brings second baseman Logan Forsythe to Los Angeles, these guys tell us that the Los Angeles Dodgers project as the best team in baseball for 2017.

It’s not true.

To be clear, I like the Forsythe deal enough. The Dodgers sent top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay to get the guy, who is an above-average second baseman. It sounds like a lot, but De Leon doesn’t project to be a staff ace. After Clayton Kershaw, the current Dodgers pitching staff is overstocked with guys who project as a No.2 or 3. Another No. 2? 

Before the deal, if somebody hit a ball to the right side of the infield, it would roll all the way to wall. So yeah, De Leon can toil before 5,000 people in that nasty concrete pimple the Rays play in.

I’m OK with Forsythe. I realize fans saw 42 home runs from Brian Dozier in Minnesota and wanted that guy no matter what. Baseball history tells us a lot of guys hit close to 50 home runs in a breakout year and follow it up with 15-18 the next. The ones who consistently push for 45-50 HRs? They’ve either sold their souls to Satan or are on ‘roids.

So the Dodgers, once again, project as a so-called deep roster team with lots of options that will make the playoffs and probably have a showdown with the Chicago Cubs. Vengeance is theirs, project the fearsome mighty slide rulers at Fangraphs!

Nah.

First of all, let’s talk about what the Cubs have — which is everyone from the defending championship roster. Their starting pitching was and is superior to the Dodgers. Their lineup is approaching its physical prime, and it’s hard to believe that Jayson Heyward will have another bad year.

The only everyday position where you look at the Dodgers and say they are superior to the Cubs is at shortstop — Corey Seager over Addison Russell. Everywhere else? The Dodgers at best, match or come close to matching. Chicago’s outfield is better. Every  Angelino loves Justin Turner, but Kris Bryant is better at third base. Adrian Gonzalez might be a hall of famer, but right now Anthony Rizzo is better.

Moreover, the Dodgers’ addiction to analytics means a heavy reliance on the bullpen, which has been shortened by letting reliable Joe Blanton and J.P. Howell walk in free agency.

None of this is to imply the Dodgers suck. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them win the National League West for a fifth consecutive year. But with no World Series titles, or even World Series appearances, since 1988, winning a division is about as big a deal as being the valedictorian at summer school. Nobody cares.

For the Dodgers to be the best team in baseball, the Cubs have to regress — whether by injury or complacency. Those are things that simply can’t be forecast on Microsoft Excel.

I guess we can’t totally ignore the LA Chargers, so…

This whole Los Angeles Chargers thing just has that “do I really have to take care of grandma?” vibe.

Yes, LA. You do. You know you do because you’ve already taken steps to make do with this unwanted freeloader. You’ve given the Chargers the little room in the corner at the StubHub Center. You’ve done your best to look the other way when they make you wear an extremely questionable wardrobe, such as…


You’ve even turned the music up to tune out Philip Rivers carping about the good ol’ days.

But the Chargers ain’t a-goin’ anywhere no time soon, son. So you gotta make due. How do you make them less embarrassing?

Well, on the plus side it’s somewhat easy to diagnose what went wrong with the 5-11 Chargers. Pro Football Focus ranked the Chargers line as the second-worst in the league. Using these fancy-pants metrics that the young kids are so fond of, on running plays the Chargers line would push a defense back an average of only 1.5 yards before the ballcarrier would get hit. As for pass plays, Rivers was under pressure 238 times.

In the AFC West, the standings were literally dictated by strength of offensive line. To be honest, I thought the Raiders line was better than Kansas City, but the one time Oakland’s wall screwed up Derek Carr broke his leg. Alex Smith survived the year in one piece, so we’ll rank the lines/teams as Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos and Chargers.

Notice the Broncos missed the playoffs. One could argue that was because of changes at quarterback, only Denver won the Super Bowl last year with Peyton Manning losing his faculties by the end of the season. That team didn’t have a prayer this year because the incoming quarterbacks and running backs had no line.

Every starter on the Chargers offensive line must be put on notice. If more than two current starters remain with the team after this offseason, the Chargers will stink so bad they won’t even fill up that MLS stadium where they landed.

LA’s second team must follow either the Dallas or Oakland model. The Cowboys spent first-round draft picks for three consecutive years on offensive linemen and it helped turn a rookie quarterback and rookie running back into superstars overnight. The Raiders cleared out salary cap room and spent heavily on their line.

At the time of this writing, without players being cut, the Chargers have about $20 million in cap space. They also have the No. 9 overall draft pick. The path is theirs for the choosing.

I recognize the team has other holes — particularly at safety, outside linebacker, and at some point you have to wonder when tight end Antonio Gates is going to retire. Having said that, if an argument can be made that a group of people are the worst in the league, that is priority No. 1. You don’t have to have the absolute best of everything to compete in the NFL. You can’t afford to have the worst at anything.

In the meantime, could somebody be a dear and show Dean Spanos how to program the remote on the flatscreen TV? Thanks.

You don’t give up on Russell, but…

While watching the Lakers take apart Indiana on Friday night, an ESPN announcer did something completely unexpected: he said something possibly brilliant.

To be honest, I didn’t want to look up the announcer’s name. It was 1 a.m. in my time zone when he said it and frankly it’s going to be many months before an ESPN announcer doesn’t substitute tired pop culture references for analysis, so why bother? 

He lauded rookie small forward Brandon Ingram as so skilled and versatile, he could also serve as a point guard. The No. 2-overall pick in the 2016 draft has played guard for the Lakers earlier this year when the team was losing players to injury. Coach Luke Walton saw playing Ingram at the point as a way to get the rookie — who has a reputation for on-court acumen — some extra time.

Considering the Lakers have very little set in stone with its current roster, switching Ingram to guard is a distinct possibility.

Because point guard D’Angelo Russell, a No. 2-overall pick from the 2015 NBA Draft, isn’t performing at a level you would want. Russell, who was selected because Lakers officials were wowed by his on-court decision-making, currently ranks at No. 41 in the NBA assists rankings at an underwhelming 4.4 per game.

That’s behind former Lakers Jeremy Lin and Jordan Farmar. It’s one thing to be behind the Clippers Chris Paul. Russell is also behind Blake Griffin.

Oh, but Russell has cracked the top 20 in turnovers per game. He lets the other team have the ball 2.6 times per game, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but only 19 players in the entire league are worse. 

In what many armchair GMs consider a guard-oriented league, that simply isn’t any good.

You don’t want to root for people to get injured. Having said that, you almost have to wonder if Russell’s tumble in the first minute of last night’s game, during which he injured the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, actually helped the team. Without Russell, the Lakers struggled to get their footing, but pulled away in the second half with Ingram controlling the ball. The Lakers led by 20 at one point.

So I get it: You don’t trade Russell because he’s only in his second year and it goes against common sense to abandon ship on someone you invested the No. 2-overall draft pick on. You certainly don’t do it in one game where Ingram took over and excelled.

But at this point, the Lakers don’t have three budding young stars on their roster like their fans want to believe. They might have two — maybe — in Ingram and forward Julius Randle. Russell is the weak link, inconsistent, turnover-prone and pointlessly cocky. He needs to spend less time pointing at his antecubital when he makes a shot. You don’t have ice in your veins, player. Not when you average a very pedestrian 14.3 points per game.

It behooves Russell to humble down and focus on professionalism, because the Lakers franchise is popular, but the actual team is struggling to reach mediocrity. If he can’t figure out what he’s doing, he’ll be out of the league before he turns 25, watching Ingram run the offense on TV.

A political take that has nothing to do with politics

Hi.

Please accept the tasty non-caffeinated beverage I’m offering.

I don’t want to insult you, call you some name or tell you your opinions are wrong. Part of me wants to, but I won’t. We can have differences in opinions. That’s cool. If we all thought alike, nobody learns.

But some of your friends who voted the way you did want you to cool down. Just like I do.

Because you’re bringing us down, man. We accept that politics make up a part of your life, but not the whole thing. And we want to see that non-partisan cool stuff about you that didn’t have a damn thing to do with hating on one man.

Sometimes, your fury is scarier than the guy you hate, to be honest.

I’m a divorcee. I’ve never met an angrier person than my ex-wife. Why she left me, without going into all the details, was because she said her parents pressured her into getting married and she changed her mind. When I rebounded rather quickly, she sank into a rage that lasted for decades. Blind, seething, nonsensical wrath.

It’s not healthy to let such hatred build until it floods your being. More than that, it frightens the people around you. Not only did my ex- vex my family and I, her own parents asked me to pray “that she stops acting so crazy.”

I see this behavior in your tweets, posts and comments about you-know-who. I’ve seen some of you post as many as 10 times a day about the guy. I’ve seen some of you post 10 times each hour about the guy. Your punditry is not changing minds as much as it is scaring people.

Run the numbers: Say you post 10 times per day about the president-elect. Well, his candidacy ran about 500 days. The transition period is 74 days, I think. His presidency, if it’s one term, would be 1,461 days. So from the time dude and his mail-order bride came down the escalator at Trump Tower until he leaves — if it’s a one-term deal — you would have posted at least 20,350 times about the guy.

And you don’t think we got the message yet?

I cringed just now. I know of a few of you who made it their mission to tweet Trump about 10 times an hour. Assuming eight hours for sleep, which I doubt those people get, that’s as many as 233,760 posts.

That’s not patriotism. That’s illness. As your friend, I’m asking you to recognize and correct this problem. This isn’t a joke. There isn’t a fine line between being driven to support a cause and delusion. There isn’t a line at all. It’s marked with glowing signs and people waving their arms, begging you to pull your fingers back from the keyboard until you post a picture of a selfie with a kitten instead.

I’m not asking you to accept the guy, but to wean yourself off of this cascading fountain of lava that scorches you and all around you.

Your well-being depends on it.

Did San Diego really want the Chargers, though?

While people rummage through the post-mortems on San Diego as a “good sports town,” or others decry greedy owners, at some point residents in and around the city are going to have to ask themselves if they really enjoy football that much in the first place.

Having lived and worked in San Diego for years, I’m here to tell you it’s a fair question.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the Chargers moving to Los Angeles is a bad idea. Sports leagues have this idiotic idea that the Los Angeles/Orange County region should have two of everything. Only one team inevitably becomes an unloving big brother. The Dodgers dominate the area in baseball, for instance. The Lakers currently stink, but nobody seriously thinks the Clippers will ever be more popular.

If I were running the Chargers, I’d have moved the team to San Antonio. It’s the second-largest city in a football-crazy state. The more I think about it, London makes a hell of a lot of sense. It would surely make a hell of a lot of money.

The Chargers moving north is reminiscent of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling taking his NBA team out of San Diego. Nobody cared for decades. It’s hard to argue anyone ever truly will.

Qualcomm Stadium opened when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. It opened before a man set foot on the moon. It opened 18 years before there was Qualcomm. It was the fourth-oldest stadium in the NFL and many things about it reeked of being the worst. I’ve been to that stadium numerous times. Bathrooms were few in number and constantly broken. The video board — compared with today’s behemoths — looks as big as your average smartphone. Driving the final mile to the stadium could take hours with only one offramp in each direction.

So it’s difficult for me to muster up hatred for team ownership wanting better digs.

Add to that a sinking suspicion that fans just didn’t really show up to support the Chargers that much. Watching games on television, one had to be reminded the game was taking place in San Diego. The stands were filled with people wearing jerseys of the opposing team — Chiefs red, Steelers gold and surely, Raiders silver and black.

Team ownership repeatedly went to city leaders with plans for new stadiums, either in the swanky Gaslamp District or on the current Qualcomm site. Every single attempt was rebuffed either by the city or by its residents, the last in November when a proposal garnered only a 43 percent yes vote.

None of this is to paint the Spanos family as angelic. It’s simply to point out the obvious: San Diego simply didn’t like the Chargers enough.

Some places just love certain sports and not others. St. Louis is an amazing place for baseball and hockey, but it lost two NFL teams. Wisconsin is crazy about the Packers, but who goes out of their way to watch the Brewers or the Bucks?

San Diego loves soccer. I am stunned it doesn’t have an MLS team. It kinda likes the Padres enough. But football? If residents enjoyed it so much, where were they? Because at this point, the gut feeling here is more people are upset the Chargers chose to be the little brother to the LA Rams.

Journalism doesn’t realize it’s cutting own throat

We used to get the call on a weekly basis in the newsroom from an anonymous source: “Did you know the mayor is cheating on his wife? Why aren’t you running a story on that?”

There were many reasons we didn’t run a story on that. One of the primary ones being you’re an anonymous source with no proof and an obvious agenda to smear someone you don’t like.

Which, as much as it pains me to say it, is exactly what happened to the president-elect yesterday. And it’s possible this will come back to bite the entire journalism industry on the ass, weakening the First Amendment in the process. How? We’ll get to that in a moment.

There was a report issued on CNN and a website called Buzzfeed that gave Trump haters from sea to shining sea — and judging from the electoral map, they only live by the sea — enough salacious material to gorge themselves for years. The report was allegedly dug up by Ariz. Sen. John McCain and handed over to intelligence officials.

Only here’s the problem: None of it was vetted.

Not by the senator, who has an ax to grind against Trump.

Same for the intelligence community, likewise not in the good graces of the incoming president.

Even worse, its veracity was willfully ignored by Buzzfeed. The site said it published the document “so that Americans can make up their own minds” about the allegations. According to its editor, “publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”

Only that’s not the job of reporters. I know because I was one. If I went up to an editor with an article about something completely unproven and pitched it so that the readers could make up their own minds, I would have been in really hot water. The limits of the First Amendment are slander and libel. You have to know what you’re talking about when you publish.

Even if the source is a senator, you have to verify first. Even anonymous source Deep Throat was just one source of many against the corrupt Nixon White House.

On the campaign trail, Trump made waves when he suggested it should be much easier to sue the press when somebody feels it has been dishonest. As a former scribe, that sent chills down my spine. We need a strong press in this country. The powerful must be held accountable. Only the industry has been in trouble for almost a decade, thanks to declining advertising and subscription revenue, coupled with the credit crisis back in 2007. Major media outlets can’t afford major legal trouble. They can’t afford lawsuits.

Only thing is, when you publish smear jobs, you risk that happening. Hell, a broken-down wrestler from the 1980s took down a celebrity gossip website with a lawsuit just last year.

So now the journalism industry runs unverified smears against a guy who has no problem filing lawsuits and wants to theoretically weaken the First Amendment.

I’ve never witnessed a suicide before, but I’m watching this unfold with what I presume is the same skin-crawling sensation — equal parts if squeamishness and a strong desire to save the victim from itself.

Only journalism doesn’t want to save itself because it hates Trump so much.

Which is a pity, because we can survive bad presidents, but the republic damn sure can’t survive without a healthy free and responsible press.