By Mike Rice.
While they may have games in hand over some of their rivals, LA Galaxy is currently the second-worst side in Major League Soccer.
Only above Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race, they have managed just three wins from 18 games, losing nine times already this season.
The injury to captain and star striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez threw further pain on a supporters’ group who have been far from happy, even before a ball had been kicked this season.
Only Colorado have scored fewer goals than LA Galaxy this season, and with Chicharito now unavailable for the rest of the season due to an ACL tear in his right knee, issues build even further.
The season started badly with the announcement of a punishment for roster rule breaks that cost them $1 million in General Allocation Money as well as restricting them from signing any players from outside MLS this summer.
Supporters demanded the removal of Chris Klein, the club’s President, for his role in the rule break as well as continued poor decision-making.
Fans from the major supporters’ groups have been boycotting matches and the vibe around the club has been worrying and concerning for a while now.
Klein has left, which has brought fans back into the stadium, but it isn’t a quick fix.
LA Galaxy has the most MLS Cups in league history, but with their last being in 2014, it is starting to become a distant memory. Their glory years with the likes of David Beckham and Robbie Keane on the field and the dynasty they created from 2010-2014 is a far cry from what we are seeing on the field today.
While the loss of Chicharito for the rest of the season hurts, it must be remembered that he had only scored once in MLS so far this season. Their leading goal scorers are Dejan Joveljic and Tyler Boyd with two goals.
Without being to add recruits from abroad this summer, the options are very limited for Gregg Vanney who knows his role at the club isn’t exactly secure.
While the attention went on the back office, those who come into the club need to be convinced Vanney is the right man to take this team forward. With the restrictions the club is under, some pressure will be lifted, but not fully.
Losing your DP centre forward is tough on any side, except maybe neighbours LAFC who continue to compete at the top of the table after not replacing Chico Arango who they sold in the off-season.
LA Galaxy still has Riqui Puig in the midfield, supported by Gaston Brugman and Mark Delgado which is, frankly, a very strong midfield when compared with anyone in MLS.
Dejan Joveljic is a strong backup striker who could be a starter in a lot of other teams. He will relish the chance to be the focal point of the attack. The young man is keen to burst out of Chicharito’s shadow and make the position his own. Success for Joveljic would also help him with his decisions going forward with the return of Chicharito next season looking questionable at best.
Around the rest of the squad, things are quite as optimistic.
Let’s work our way up the field. In goal they have, according to FBRef, a Post-Shot xG of 0.35, which is the highest in the league, joint with Atlanta United. This means that LA Galaxy goalkeepers face the hardest shots to stop across MLS.
This is often due to the lack of quality in defence. Martín Cáceres may be a former Uruguayan international who has performed highly in Europe during his career, but he is now 36 years old and can be targeted by stronger and faster forwards. Jalen Neal is a young central defender with a lot of promise, but he has been thrown somewhat into the deep end with this team.
Their fullbacks enjoy attacking far more than they do defending, which often results in some difficult transitional breaks for LA Galaxy to deal with.
Vanney has been keen to stick to his 4-2-3-1 formation and desperate to get his wide forwards contributing. Douglas Costa was kept on after hopes of a return to Brazil fell apart. Kevin Cabral was sent to Colorado Rapids regaining $1 million in GAM, though the new additions have failed to impress.
Tyler Boyd and Memo Rodríguez both seem decent MLS players, but they have struggled to be a consistent threat. Rodríguez is often more dangerous in a central role while Boyd is still finding his feet and is yet to register an assist this season.
What To Expect?
This season already seems like a write-off from the outside. What fans and the club can be positive about will be the introduction of young players they can get behind.
Jalen Neal coming through the academy, Julian Aude at left back arriving from Lánus in Argentina, or even Preston Judd the 2021 SuperDraft pick. These players, as well as some performing well in MLS Next Pro, could help to shape how the roster is put together going forward.
Having chased big names without a clear plan for some time now, developing and moving young players into the first team could be a viable approach for the first time in a while for LA Galaxy. Could we see players like Aaron Bibout or Adrián González be given opportunities from MLS Next Pro into the first team this season?
Playoffs look a long way off, points-wise, as well as performance-wise. Now, it is about steadying the ship, getting supporters back on side, and having a clear identity for the future.
Easier said than done.