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Galaxy's dysfunction goes way beyond the head coach

Galaxy's dysfunction goes way beyond the head coach
Sigi Schmid was the latest victim of the Galaxy fallout. (Shaun Clark / Getty Images)

Sigi Schmid was sitting outside an El Segundo Starbucks when a man dressed in a blue Best Buy polo shirt approached with a question.

“You’re the coach of the L.A. Galaxy, huh?” he asked shyly.

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Schmid said he was, posed for a quick selfie, then wished the young man well without ever bothering to correct him. Schmid, truth be told, was now the former coach of the Galaxy, having been summoned to StubHub Center and fired five days earlier.

“Sunday morning meetings are never good,” Schmid says with a wan smile.

But he will say little more about the Galaxy, silenced by the terms of a contract that will pay him for another 15 months. Curt Onalfo, fired last summer and replaced by Schmid, has a similar agreement. The Galaxy will be paying him through the end of the year.

Add in Dominic Kinnear, the team’s current coach, and the Galaxy have as many coaches on the first-team payroll as they do goalkeepers.

The terms of Schmid’s contract turned what had been scheduled as an interview into a friendly 90-minute chat about European vacations and Christmas trees. But then he doesn’t have to say much for much to be revealed.

With Schmid’s dismissal the Galaxy, once the gold standard by which the rest of MLS measured itself, has become a dysfunctional mess. After failing to reach the playoffs only three times in its first 21 seasons, the team is in danger of missing them for the second consecutive year this fall.

The implosion began two years ago when Bruce Arena, who took the team to the postseason in each of his eight full seasons as coach, left to join the U.S. national team. Arena hadn’t even cleaned out his office before Galaxy president Chris Klein and Dan Beckerman, chief executive of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the team’s parent company, began razing the foundation he had built.

They got rid of nine veterans, trimmed the payroll by a third, filled the roster with players promoted from the developmental academy and USL affiliate and promoted Onalfo from the USL team to coach the young, inexperienced team. Twenty games into the worst season in franchise history Klein and Beckerman pulled the plug on that plan by firing Onalfo and replacing him with Schmid.

Over the next 10 months Schmid would gut Onalfo’s young roster, shipping out 16 players and bringing in four veterans over the age of 30. It was part of a two-year plan, Schmid said in July. He was sacked six weeks later, less than a year into that makeover.

Now the front office has no plan and nowhere to turn. They went young, hired a coach the players trusted, then lost their patience after five months. Next they went with a veteran team, hired the winningest coach in MLS history, then refused to let him finish a full season.

But that’s just the start of the dysfunction. The Galaxy, who helped pioneer the academy system within MLS, haven’t had a dedicated academy director since Mike Munoz replaced Onalfo as the Galaxy II coach two years ago. The team now faces the prospect of entering the offseason without a full-time coach, academy director or general manager and with only one full-time scout.

When the Kings, also owned by AEG, narrowly missed the NHL playoffs in 2017, Beckerman fired general manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter, the pair that had led the team to two Stanley Cup championships in the previous five seasons.

The failures of his soccer team have led Beckerman to go through four managers in 22 months while doubling down on a front office where the player-side staff is just three deep: Pete Vagenas, vice president of soccer operations; Jovan Kirovski, an assistant coach briefly last summer and now the technical director; and Kurt Schmid, the player personnel director.

It’s possible two of the three will be gone by next season.

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Sigi Schmid, 65, politely but firmly waves away questions about the subject; all that is someone else’s problem now. But it’s clear whispers that he stepped down because of health concerns are untrue. On this morning, sitting behind a venti decaf coffee and a breakfast sandwich, Schmid looks happy and relaxed, as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

Despite his pedigree, Schmid has been fired three times in his MLS career — twice by the Galaxy, in 2004 and 2018, and by the Seattle Sounders in 2016. The most recent parting has been the easiest to take, says Schmid, who repeats the official line that he walked away and wasn’t pushed.

That seems unlikely. After 266 wins and 14 playoff teams in 18 MLS seasons, why would he willingly abandon a postseason contender with six games left on the schedule?

However he is believable when he says he hopes falling on his sword will help the team.

“I want to see the club do well,” he says. “There’s always a boost that comes with a coaching change. Hopefully that’s enough to carry the team into the playoffs.

“I think my leaving, my stepping down, helps the team.”

That didn’t work Saturday when the Galaxy rallied from a 3-0 deficit only to lose 5-3 in Toronto, extending their streak of games without a win to seven and crippling their already-poor playoff chances. The team has allowed 16 goals in its last three road games.

Schmid had planned to leave coaching when his contract ran out after next season anyway, perhaps to become a general manager, scout or consultant. Now that timeline has been accelerated, yet retirement is still not an option.

“I get bored too easily,” he says. “So I definitely want to do something.”

On this day, he’s content with a cup of coffee and posing for selfies.

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