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.

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 week in L.A. sports (6/3/16-6/9/16)

I’m writing this a day early, because watching these commercials for the upcoming “Ghostbusters” bomb during the NBA Finals is making me bitter. I know people like NBA players, but you can’t trick me into making me think it’s “Space Jam” by adding Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony to the ads. If this hunk of cinematic phlegm is so great, and it likely isn’t, where are the stars of the movie in the ads?

I’ll take a deep breath now. On to the teams…

Dodgers: The team continues to tread the waters of Lake Inferior, but made a rather noteworthy player transaction this weekend by designating Carl Crawford for assignment. That’s a fancy-pants way of saying “you’re so bad, we will pay you not to be on the team.” Considering that he’s owed $35 million, that’s an intense level of bad.

What’s particularly striking about that decision is that nobody thought this golden parachute was a bad idea even though the Dodgers could only manage one base hit in Monday’s loss.

LA also cut Cuban defector Alex Guerrero, who hadn’t been seen in the majors since before Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy.

Lakers: Elite draft prospect Brandon Ingram is scheduled to showcase his wares in a private workout session for the team in El Segundo today. They have yet to schedule one with consensus top pick Ben Simmons. Make of that what you will.

There’s also a bit of a pissing match over whether the 1980s “Showtime” Lakers could beat the modern-day Golden State Warriors. Everybody said the obvious things and at the end of the day, Magic still has HIV for I believe 25 years now. That’s a silver anniversary, right?

Also, Brandon Bass has declined an option in his contract in order to become a free agent. Can you blame him?

Rams: This might not be as sexy a pick as the new quarterback, but if you’re looking for a player to love with the team returning, consider defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who was rated the No.3 overall best player in the NFL by CBS Sports beat writer Pete Prisco. Donald is behind only Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Houston’s multi-talented J.J. Watt.

“He was a dominant inside force for the Rams last season, breaking out into the star category of players. Donald is so quick and strong, even if he is undersized. He had 11 sacks last season and was outstanding against the run,” Prisco wrote. “The ability to get off the ball as quickly as he did sets him apart from the rest of the defensive tackles in the league.”

Clippers: Dude, are I hear about them are wild rumors and the only fantasies I deal with are about women I can’t have.

Galaxy: Major League Soccer is in this funky little pause/non-pause with the Copa America tournament. The Galaxy is missing some of its top players and it showed in that it couldn’t score in a tie against a rather lame Sporting Kansas City.

Kings: General manager Dean Lombardi talked about the team with ESPN “First Take” gasbag Stephen A. Smith. I’d tell you what happened, but I could sense my IQ plummet like a diabetic’s blood-sugar level.

The week in Los Angeles sports (5/20/16-5/26/16)

Before recapping a week that was weak from my old stomping grounds, I want to address the idea of the Oakland Raiders moving to either Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

If the Raiders can’t make it work in Oakland, the Rams should tell them to move to Vegas.

The cold truth is the Rams could lose the city they fought so hard to move to, because the Raiders are a damn entertaining football team right now and on the cusp of being a playoff threat.

The Rams? I’m not sure what the hell they are right now. I know they want to run the football, but they let a lot of their defensive depth go in order to make room for a quarterback. They’re likely a couple of years away.

The return of the LA Raiders could damage the LA Rams. Why would team owner Stan Kroenke allow that?

Now…

Dodgers: A national outlet’s power rankings asked if it was time to write off the Dodgers. Depending on what you’re writing them off for, it’s a fair question. Playoff berth? I wouldn’t write them off. World title? Grab your pen and start scribbling, because this team is currently very poorly designed and poorly led.

Consider they just finished a string of 10 consecutive games against last place teams and finished a painfully mediocre 5-5.

I have plenty of time to deconstruct the team, though. Instead, I want to take the analytics-enslaved management to task over how it treated Ross Stripling. You might remember how manager Dave Roberts ruined Stripling’s push for a no-hitter in his major league debut. Roberts, beholden to the spreadsheet the alleged “smartest front office in baseball” forced him to abide by instead of common sense, pulled Stripling, and the Dodgers lost.

Had Stripling — a journeyman minor-leaguer — finished the no-hitter, he would have had a better shot at landing a job with another team because he wasn’t in the Dodgers future plans. Or at least, he would have been known as “the guy who threw the no-hitter” everywhere he went afterward.

Stripling was demoted in the last week. It’s unlikely you’ll see him in Dodger blue again.

Good going, “smart guys.”

Lakers: Brian Shaw was hired as Luke Walton’s lead assistant coach, and sportswriters from sea to shining sea got the story totally wrong.

Shaw is not there to bring the Warriors “small ball” style to the Lakers. We don’t even know if Walton is going to try to replicate that.

Shaw was an assistant under Phil Jackson. Walton played for Jackson. And Jackson ran the triangle.

You’re jumping to a conclusion that the facts don’t support. Idiots. You don’t know what Walton will do yet.

By the way, if “small ball” is so great, why are the Warriors down 3-1 to Oklahoma City and its three seven-footers?

Galaxy: Rivarly Week for Major League Soccer ended with a thud when San Jose picked up a 1-1 tie with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. That sucked. It really did, especially since LA got its goal when a San Jose player accidentally kicked the ball into his own net.

Kings: The NHL draft is in late June. The Kings don’t have a first-round pick and even if they did, I couldn’t tell you if the dude could play.

Clippers: Just a gut feeling. Despite all the talk about blowing up the team, I think they simply focus on finding J.J, Reddick’s replacement at shooting guard. Dude is 31.

When was the last time an NBA franchise blew up, by the way? The last I can think of … the Chicago Bulls when Pippen and Jordan left?

Watching Orlando City soccer, the lion’s share is in rule-breaking

I’m an unusual person. I not only like soccer. I really like Major League Soccer.

It’s not as good as the Premiere League, Bundesliga or Serie A. Hell, Liga MX is a superior product, but MLS is the only thing we’ve got going without getting up insanely early for televised games or moving to Europe.

So I’ve sung with the Angel City Brigade in support of the Los Angeles Galaxy. In my travels, I’ve seen games in Portland (an amazing atmosphere) and Dallas (an inspiring collection of alcoholics) and now that I live in central Florida, I’ve seen a lot of Orlando City SC.

I don’t want to mince words. Watching a 90-minute Orlando City soccer game is comprised of about 75 minutes of pointless mind-numbing brutality and 15 minutes of excellence.

The excellence comes from Brazilian legend Kaka, the onetime best player to walk the planet. Tonight in a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact, it was Kaka who left the imprint on the Canadian team with two assists to Orlando’s second-best player, Cyle Larin.

Larin might not be long for the team. When you excel in MLS, foreign leagues come calling. Kaka might not be long, either. He’s in his 30s.

Which leaves Orlando City in a bit of a pickle because the rest of the roster isn’t nearly as good as its swelling fan base thinks it is. The Lions play with no discipline whatsoever, and the result is that they have allowed the most goals in MLS since they debuted last season. They also collect yellow and red cards at an alarming rate — including five yellows Saturday.

But that is not an accident. One could even say it appears to be part of the plan under coach Adrian Heath.

An expansion team in any sport lacks the talent level of established franchises. In soccer, as in the NHL, expansion teams lack defensive talent and usually make up for it by playing a physical brand of defense — tugging on the jersey, extra contact, and so on.

When you are constantly making contact, you will be called for more fouls. It becomes important that — if you lack the speed to keep up with superior opponents — you make up for it with good positioning so that you can disrupt their flow without drawing fouls. Soccer television analysts call it “keeping their shape,” when the defense keeps good positioning.

Orlando City’s positioning is poor. They let so many opponents slip past them, particularly the vastly overrated Breck Shea, that its shape may as well be an amoeba. The consequence is that the Lions are constantly chasing down their opponents to foul from behind, which will draw not only the ref’s whistle, but his yellow and red cards as well.

When you foul somebody that is facing you, it doesn’t look as bad as tackling somebody from behind. That’s just logic.

But good luck trying to find common sense on the Orlando City back line. Of the five yellow cards OCSC earned Saturday, one player picked up a yellow card in his first game back from a suspension. Not exactly a lesson learned from time off.

Yet when Larin was interviewed at halftime about the game’s growing foul count, he said he didn’t have a problem with it. Instead, he urged the team to play with even more aggression, more physicality.

That’s foolish. If you keep getting fouls and cards, a thin roster will be further hollowed out with suspensions. Instead of playing with more aggression, Orlando has to play with more discipline.

So where does discipline come from? The coach? Perhaps, only Heath was suspended by MLS earlier this year. The game he missed out on due to suspension, Orlando lost a winnable game against a struggling Sporting Kansas City.

How can you expect the defense to play with composure when the coach is getting suspended?

If Orlando City played with discipline, look out.

But you can’t tell that to an Orlando City supporter, because when I’ve gone to games they’re too busy complaining about the referees. Look guys, those were fouls. They really were.

For a few moments in Saturday’s game, Lions fans were throwing objects on the pitch.

On the plus side, at least that means those fans have something in common with the players and coach — lack of self-control.