As far as overhauls go, the one the LA Galaxy have undergone between 2016 and 2017 is about as comprehensive as they come. The Carson club lost their head coach Bruce Arena to the US national team and saw stalwarts Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane leave the club, along with Steven Gerrard. The LA Galaxy are a very different team this year.
That much was underlined by their performance in the opening day defeat to FC Dallas on Saturday, going down 2-1 at home. Their display was disjointed and without fluidity. There didn’t appear to be much of a game plan, with the lack of familiarity among teammates obvious across the pitch.
New head coach Curt Onalfo admitted afterwards that the performance was “kind of what he expected” from his new look side, highlighting how it will take time for all the moving parts at the club to finally settle. It might not be for weeks, maybe even months, that we get a true impression of the team Onalfo has built.
“All the pieces that we added are quality and you can see it,” he continued.
“You can see it in today’s game. Just getting it to gel and getting it to be fine-tuned, to turn those chances into goals and then not conceding the goals we give up. We can’t give up those kinds of goals and expect to be in every game especially when you’re playing a really good team. This was a very good starting point, a lot of optimism, we’ll just build on it.”
Onalfo’s optimism is understandable. He was hardly going to be lacerate his team after just his first MLS game in charge, instead wisely opting to look at the positives of the display against FC Dallas. But even he must recognise that there could be a difficult season in store for the LA Galaxy. Patience will be required.
This will be something of a transitional year for the Carson club. The heart of their team was ripped out over the winter, with so many key figures departing. Of course, in some cases those departures were necessary, particularly in the case of Gerrard who failed to live up to his billing over the course of his 18 months in MLS. Donovan was also due to leave for good having come out of retirement for a career encore in September.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) March 8, 2017
The loss of Arena will be tougher to compensate for. The MLS veteran came to define the LA Galaxy as a club, with one reflecting the identity of the other. By the time he left to replace Jurgen Klinsmann as the manager of the US national team it was difficult to separate the two.
That is why Onalfo faces such a task in taking over from Arena. Having been an assistant manager and manager of LA Galaxy II, he is engrained into the fabric of the club, but he must find a way to impose his own identity on the team. That will take time to accomplish, as demonstrated by the defeat to FC Dallas on opening weekend.
But there was a growing sense towards the end of last season that Arena’s time as LA Galaxy head coach had ran its natural course and a change was needed. In fact, the Carson club may well look back at the past two years as wasted. They could have used that stint to prepare for this inevitable transition. Instead, Onalfo has it all to do in one fell swoop.
Onalfo is right to point out the quality his side possesses. New signing and Designated Player Romain Allesandrini made a relatively impressive debut against FC Dallas, even if he was withdrawn before the full 90 minutes. Jack McBean also put down a marker as the central striker, a position that is up for grabs following the exit of Keane at the end of last season.
The overhaul of personnel over the off-season might also aid Giovani dos Santos in becoming the defining talent of this LA Galaxy side. The Mexican was overshadowed by the likes of Keane and Donovan in his first two seasons as an MLS player, but now he has the chance to become the Galaxy’s primary difference-maker, finally delivering on his undoubted potential.
Onalfo needs dos Santos to become an on-the-field totem in much the same way Keane was for Arena before him. Gyasi Zardes is still to return, having missed out against FC Dallas at the weekend, but when he does Onalfo must position him to get the best out of his Mexican teammate. Dos Santos is the figure who could accelerate the transition.
For now, however, the LA Galaxy might have to put aside any lofty ambitions they may have harboured for the 2017 season. No knee-jerk conclusions should be drawn from just one opening weekend result and performance, but if Onalfo expected it on Saturday perhaps they should anticipate more of the same going forward.