LA Galaxy Face Final Five Games and Their Past

Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The first of Los Angeles’ MLS teams, and one of the founding members of the league, holds a constellation of titles, records and star power in their galaxy. They boast five MLS Cups, four additional appearances in the MLS final, eight Western Conference titles, two U.S. Open Cups, and a CONCACAF Champion’s Cup title. They’ve signed arguably some of the brightest of stars of the world’s game: David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Robbie Keane, Jorge Campos, Steven Gerrard, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Luis Hernández, Ashley Cole, Jonathan dos Santos and Javier Hernández. LA Galaxy last won the MLS Cup in 2014.

Yet Los Angeles’ most decorated MLS team has lost much of its storied glimmer over the last eight years. After finishing at the bottom of the league in 2017, collecting the infamous MLS Wooden Spoon, they’ve been in a seemingly endless state of reinvention. The once blindingly bright Galaxy have not seen a postseason since 2019, when they were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by their newest rival, LAFC.

Flash forward to 2022. It’s mid-September with five games remaining, and LA’s signature soccer team are on the outside of the playoffs bracket looking in, sitting just one spot below their first postseason appearance since 2019.

Where did the Galaxy’s woes begin? The lesson here is that its not so easy to replenish a galaxy that became synonymous with the mega stars that occupied it.  The Beckham era ended in 2012. The Landon Donovan years culminated in 2014 (with a one-year resuscitation in 2016). The Bruce Arena heyday ended in 2016. Zlatan’s persona and talent lit up the Galaxy for two entertaining seasons ending in 2019. And since then, while stars continue to arrive and although some do shine, it’s not enough to win the biggest of prizes. Other teams easily caught up to the trend, MLS continues to expand, and now LA Galaxy must share the local MLS space with newcomer LAFC.

Signing superstars who inspire, delegate, take accountability and responsibility for making key plays in do-or-die moments, one of the elements of their past formula for success, hasn’t replicated well for LA Galaxy so far. Chicharito is the latest example of what happens when a star can’t do it all and save the franchise. He’s an excellent captain and leader off the pitch, yet his weaknesses on the pitch are proving costly. Chicharito’s missed PKs are coming at a crucial moment. According to OptaJack, “Of the 84 players to attempt at least 6 penalties since the start of the 2010 season, no player has a lower conversion rate than Chicharito (44.4% – 4/9).”

Hiring coaches and general managers with big personalities and bigger records isn’t working either. Chris Klein, President of LA Galaxy, has hired five coaches since Arena left six years ago. He’s also hired three general managers. Arena filled both roles and grew to define them. No one so far has been able to fit them. Currently, there is no defined singular GM. If Greg Vanney, the winningest coach in MLS since 2015, cannot catapult the team into the playoffs this year, it leaves one key member of the Galaxy’s constellation to take on the responsibility, Klein himself. Since being appointed club president in 2013, Klein signed two contract extensions, the second of which expires this winter. 

Unbeaten in their last six matches, the Galaxy are just two points outside of a playoffs spot, with five matches remaining. They will play three of those final matches on the road, starting with Vancouver Whitecaps. A lot more than a two point margin is on the line.

The Galaxy were once the franchise all others sought to emulate. Now, caught in a growing MLS universe, they need to either prove worthy of a spot in the playoffs or find a new gravitational center.

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