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.

The curious case of the USMNT friendlies

Last month, I drove up to Jacksonville, Fla., and thoroughly enjoyed watching the U.S. men’s national team bludgeon Trinidad & Tobago 4-0 as part of World Cup qualifying. The Yanks didn’t need to win by that much to continue their quest to play in Russia, but had they lost they would have risked elimination a sickening two years before the tournament.

It shouldn’t have come to that, in other words.

What keeps me on edge about the USMNT under coach Jurgen Klinsmann is that since his hiring in 2011, it often has come to that. In trying to get the Americans to close in on the world’s elites, the former German superstar has worked to change the way we look at the beautiful game. He’s tried to influence where players sign (preferably Europe), how Major League Soccer operates and made stark roster changes (Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore).

As the Yanks enter “the Hex” — for the uninitiated, the last round of Cup qualifying matches — they warmed up with two friendly matches in the last week: an uninspiring 2-0 victory over Cuba on a sandlot and Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with New Zealand.

These games do not project confidence for the Nov. 11 grudge match with Mexico in Columbus or Nov. 15 against Costa Rica.

I don’t claim to be an expert on international soccer. If I were, I wouldn’t watch so much MLS. Having said that, my first thoughts on the USMNT going into those two difficult Hex games are:

1) Switch the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. Last night, the Americans couldn’t string together enough passes to control tempo and create chances. Against New Zealand, midfielder Michael Bradley lined up on the right side with Sacha Kljestan in the middle. I assume it’s because Bradley, who normally lines up in the middle, isn’t as creative with the ball as Kljestan.

I would consider making the middle four in the 4-4-2 a diamond as opposed to a line, place Kljestan at the top of the diamond to take advantage of his creativity and put Bradley at the back because he is a conservative-minded passer.

Instead of three forwards cluttering up the front, I would keep Bobby Wood and Altidore up top. They’re simply too good to have one on the bench.

2) Don’t panic about the goaltending. Neither game had the Yanks’ top goalies in net. Klinsmann wanted a glimpse in the future. He got one. Only one goal was allowed.

3) Unless there’s a compelling private reason I don’t know about, Darlington Nagbe needs some tough love.

Nagbe, who has been on the precipice of cracking the starting lineup for about eight months, asked not to play in the last two games. I don’t know why after a search. It could be a family emergency, but that’s guesswork. But if it’s to kick back after playing so much for the Portland Timbers, he needs to miss the hex.

This is different from Christian Pulisic missing the New Zealand game. He plays in Europe and his club needs him for Champions League matches. Pulisic’s playing world-class competition. The Timbers didn’t play at all.

Klinsmann has a history of benching players he doesn’t believe he can rely on, regardless of talent level. Altidore missed games due to being injury-prone. Landon Donovan took an international soccer sabbatical of about a year, and when he came back, Klinsmann said no thanks. I love Donovan. That one stung.

Ultimately, the hope going against two rivals is that these two matches are simply another example of Klinsmann experimenting a little too much for our comfort level.

If I’m wrong and he’s still tinkering in the hex, the Yanks could miss the World Cup.

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.

I haven’t admitted this to my Mexican friends yet

No, it’s not about that wall on the border thing. To be frank, if we could have a wall that magically electrocuted terrorists like a bug zapper but could let in Mexican immigrants, I’d be OK with that. I’m not a big believer in illegal immigration being the No.1 issue that harms our economy. Maybe it damages the economy a little, but I don’t know and besides, you can’t grow up in California and not have Mexican friends.

Now that I work in health care, Mexican patients have been very forgiving with my fumbling attempts at Spanish. It’s a beautiful language that I’m still learning. This is a courtesy that they have extended to me which, I fear, I might not reciprocate if I were in pain in a foreign country.

So I like the people, but I freaking loved watching the Mexican National Team get crushed by Chile last night 7-0 in the quarterfinals of the Copa America tournament.

Oh, that was one delicious beatdown. Here’s why:

We often chide ourselves in the United States for being overbearing, elitist, “the ugly American.” There are some in the world who thought with regards to 9/11, that we had it coming. We didn’t, but if we can be taken to task for being arrogant, that’s a human condition. People from foreign countries can be pretty damned boorish, too.

That includes a lot of Mexican soccer fans.

It doesn’t make them horrible people 24-7, but if you spend 90 minutes with El Tri fans in a soccer stadium you’ll reconsider that whole “make America great again” thing.

There’s a tradition in Mexico whenever the opposing team gets a goal kick. When the goalie clears the ball, thousands of El Tri fans scream a homosexual slur at him in unison. It’s hilarious if you’re 6 and have no idea what the word means. One week after a terrorist blasted through a gay bar in Orlando, not so much.

Other traditions to show blind love to El Tri range from the merely impolite to the blatantly unsanitary. And it puts you in a really weird place. You remember you have close friends who are Mexican, so you have an awkward conversation with yourself trying to excuse this behavior.

Drowning out the opposing national anthem with boos? Well, not every national anthem is inspiring, I suppose. I think Venezuela’s anthem is about panhandling and drug trafficking, so I guess I can live with that…

Throwing beer bottles at opposing players when they score? Um, well, they’re just plastic and empty, so…

Chanting “Osama” when playing the Americans in 2005? Ok, that’s too far below the belt.

Throwing ziploc bags of urine at opposing fans? Dude, what the hell, we were splitting beers in the parking lot in the first place! Where did you sneak off to pee in those baggies… And do you know where I can find a towel?

Have you ever noticed how pretty the girls are in the stands at international soccer matches? Some of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen, and to be sure, there are millions of attractive Mexican women in this world. I would love to take one to see a soccer game, but I won’t because

1) I can’t be sure we won’t get hit with bags of piss, or

2) I can’t be sure she won’t sneak off, pee in a bag, and slam dunk that on the crown of my head.

So last night put me in a slightly thorny space, until I realized that this meant I didn’t have to see any more American stadiums drowning in urine and homophobia for a while.

I’m sorry my friends are unhappy, but let the truth be told: It wouldn’t surprise me if they are secretly overjoyed when the United States loses in soccer. So why guilt trip myself in this idiotic time when political correctness makes us question every statement we utter?

Mexico got its ass kicked in soccer. It was so bad they chanted the same homophobic slur at their own goalie by the end of the night. That’s how humiliated El Tri fans were.

Yay! 

Pass the beer to celebrate. Just point me in the direction of a toilet when nature calls.