LA Galaxy changes focus from stars to comets 

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.

There has to be more from the Galaxy

I read an authorless column from the Los Angeles Times this morning about how the moves made by the Los Angeles Galaxy were much ado about nothing because the team draws about 20,000 fans per game and the television ratings aren’t stellar.

I’m not sure that’s the point. Major League Soccer has mostly followed a slow-growth business strategy since its inception because it knew it wouldn’t surpass the NFL no matter what Fox News tells you about Colin Kaepernick. At some point, MLS might get ambitious and try to pass the NHL, but where club soccer ranks on the national landscape hasn’t been a factor.

Instead, Tuesday’s moves for the five-time champions appeared to be much ado about nothing because there is nothing to suggest the team will be any better next year. Even worse, it’s hard to tell if the team will qualify for the playoffs next year. Ultimately, that’s what matters to those 20,000 fans per game — which, I might add, is an attendance average that exceeds at least three Major League Baseball teams.

New coach Curt Onalfo is probably a good idea, despite what the afore-mentioned column suggests. True, the Galaxy have excelled at attracting internationally known soccer commodities. In my eyes, though, the least important star should be the coach. The U.S. men’s national team tried that approach with Jurgen Klinsmann and it didn’t exactly help.

In addition to four seasons as an MLS coach, Onalfo has served as the Galaxy’s USL coach. “Los Dos,” as fans like to call the team, has played pretty efficient soccer. To me, letting him run the big club is a sign of continuity. The Galaxy have earned that right to ask for fans’ trust there.

But the incoming players so far are underwhelming, at best. It seems to me the Galaxy have a trustworthy defense that doesn’t need addressing. Midfield and forward, though, are cringe-worthy at the moment. We already know about the departures of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Steven Gerrard and Nigel De Jong. What might be under the radar for fans is that dependable scorers Mike Magee and Alan Gordon are no longer under contract, either.

The Galaxy acquired the rights to two midfielders yesterday. Jermaine Jones is a name MLS fans have heard of. He’s also a 35-year-old reserve. Miguel Aguilar is a guy who couldn’t regularly crack the lineup for his last MLS team. It’s hard to believe either of them will make an impact.

The team has two designated player slots for next year. For the uninitiated, it’s basically a way to circumvent the salary cap to acquire top-level talent. The rule was created so that the Galaxy could add David Beckham back in the day.

The sooner those slots get filled, the more likely we’ll be impressed.

There has to be more… Shouldn’t there? 

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.

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.

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.

Donovan may help Galaxy, but not MLS

If you’ve heard of the law of diminishing returns, know that I don’t take as much pleasure in sports as I used to. Only recently have I come to grips with sports as an addiction, like heroin or the music of U2. I often find myself watching sports not because of love as much as a function of the autonomic nervous system. I watch because the feeling of “must do” overrides the feeling of “ought to do.”  

For those rare occasions when an athlete does something truly thrilling, I love the guy for that fleeting moment of reintroducing the love of sport. This was the last time I honestly lost my composure watching a sporting event.

So know I love that Landon Donovan, who retired too early in my opinion, returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy last week and played in his first game Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Orlando City SC.

Overall, though, I have a sinking feeling this is a bad idea for MLS. The reason is that the league, while telling us repeatedly about its improving quality of play, rarely acquires an elite soccer player who is still in his physical prime. Indeed, there is a global reputation of the league handing out golden parachutes to international players who want a final decent paycheck before bowing out.

Consider that Donovan is currently the greatest American-born player. He isn’t the most recognizable player in MLS history. That would be David Beckham, who joined the Galaxy at age 32. Beckham’s arrival rang in a rule change for a league that was known for being miserly — the designated player rule. Basically, it’s a financial workaround to bring in a limited number of free agent talent. And other teams responded by bringing in international superstars that were a bit past their prime, such as the New York Red Bulls did with Thierry Henry, who was 33 when he signed.

Orlando City SC and NYCFC made multiple designated player moves to excite a fan base for their first seasons in 2025. Orlando signed 32-year-old Kaka. NYCFC added David Villa, 33, Andrea Pirlo, 36, and Frank Lampard, 37. Lampard’s ballyhooed arrival last year fizzled thanks to age-related injury.

Even when the league debuted, it touted as one of its main draws Colombian star Carlos Valderamma, who was 35 at the time.

Understand, I haven’t much of a clue how to make MLS on the same level as Serie A in Italy or the Premiere League in England. Heck, I wouldn’t know how to lift MLS past Liga MX.

But signing players on the downside of their careers isn’t a solution. If you name your MVP award after a guy, you shouldn’t ask him to play again and expect it to work.

On a personal level, as a fan, I’m glad Donovan is back.

But what’s left of my sports-fried addicted mind knows that this is simply the latest hit of bad heroin.

The not-so-rapid reaction to the Yanks losing to Argentina

Whilst I rested the tormented rest of the sports fan whose team lost, a few Mexican futbol fans private messaged me about why I wasn’t criticizing the Americans as harshly as I did El Tri when it lost to Chile over the weekend in Copa America.

OK, not that I want to turn this blog into ESPN’s “First Take,” but here’s why:

People were looking forward to Chile and Mexico because the world thought these were two pretty damn good evenly matched teams and El Tri got humiliated 7-0. The entire globe took notice of that beatdown. 

The world also saw Mexico’s defense and midfield flat-out give up. And, of course, when your goalie has no defense and gives up that many goals, the world also noticed thousands of El Tri’s fans turn on their own goalie and call him a homosexual slur. A week after the Orlando terror attack, too, I might add.

Meanwhile, nobody expected the Americans to defeat the No.1-ranked team in the world. … Wait, I take that back. For reasons I’ll never know, three of four Fox Sports 1 commentators did. Seriously guys, that flag waving, were you from Fox Sports or Fox News?

How do you critique an inability to stop Lionel Messi, who scored an goal so stunning I needed a blood test to find out if I had taken hallucinogens before the match? Results negative. I didn’t get roofied in the sports bar.

What do you say? “Lads, that guy wearing 10. He’s good. You should have stopped him.” That’s like saying “Hi, Utah Jazz. That Jordan guy can shoot a little. Stop him.”

The entire world took notice — not of the U.S. giving up, but of Messi’s exceptional skill.

Sometimes, you simply get outclassed by a superior team. The thing I’ve noticed about Copa America overall? Some teams didn’t take the tournament seriously enough, such as Brazil. Other countries did.

The United States, to their credit, did.

But so did Argentina.

The only critique I could give the Yanks over that game came from USMNT legend Landon Donovan, who correctly pointed out that by fouling the Argentinians in midfield, you could have slowed the flow of their offense. Having said that, even if they did, they likely still lose by a goal or two.

But nobody thought for a moment the Americans gave up.

Mexico did.