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Galaxy Dumps Osiander

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lothar Osiander, the two-time U.S. Olympic coach who led the Los Angeles Galaxy to Major League Soccer’s championship game last season, was fired by the team Monday.

Formal announcement of the move will be made at a news conference this morning at the Rose Bowl, where Octavio Zambrano, Osiander’s assistant, will be named interim coach.

Osiander’s future with the Galaxy this season had become increasingly tenuous as losses piled up. He was told of the decision Monday afternoon after the team returned from Boston, where a 1-0 defeat by the New England Revolution on Sunday left it with a 3-9 record.

Club sources said Osiander stopped by his Rose Bowl office Monday evening, quickly packed a few things, wrote “Good luck, Octavio” on the blackboard and left. He could not be reached Monday night at home.

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Osiander had talked for several weeks about the possibility of being dismissed, but was not about to step down voluntarily. In fact, he had only recently signed a new contract with the club.

Danny Villanueva, the Galaxy’s president and general manager, declined comment Monday, saying he would reveal the reasons behind the move at today’s news conference.

Zambrano, meanwhile, said he had talked to Osiander and believed the former coach was more disappointed than surprised by his removal.

“Lothar is one of those guys who never gives up,” Zambrano said. “He was always planning ahead, asking, ‘What are we going to do to improve the situation?’ I think he’s obviously disappointed that things didn’t work out. But he’s a professional and he knows that these things happen. He knows that when a team is not winning, the head coach is usually the one who has to answer for that.”

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Club sources said the firing was in part precipitated by an erroneous report Sunday night on Univision, the Spanish-language network, saying Osiander had resigned.

“Lothar would not do that, he’s too honorable,” one source said. “He would die on his sword before he’d do that.”

The feeling in the Galaxy front office was that “there’s blame to go around everywhere,” as one official put it, and that Osiander was simply the person first in the line of fire for a disintegrating season.

“It’s not a time for finger-pointing for us,” one source said. “It’s a time to kind of rally round. The best way we can honor Lothar and the effort he did put in here is to finish the season and get in the playoffs, and that’s what we want to do.”

Zambrano, a former first-division player in his native Ecuador, will carry the interim coach tag while a search is conducted for a successor to Osiander. The Galaxy is believed to have four names on a short list, with Zambrano possibly being one of them.

Can Zambrano turn the season around?

“I have to say yes because I am optimistic,” he said. “We have a team that is able to play good soccer. I believe that if we change a few things--not drastic changes--we can win some games.

“A lot of it, I believe, is mental. So that is my No. 1 concern, to get these guys to believe in themselves again.”

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Osiander led the Galaxy to the Western Conference championship in 1996 with a 19-13 record that included a 12-0 start. The team was 5-2 in the playoffs, losing the MLS championship game, 3-2, to Washington D.C. United in the rain at Foxboro Stadium after leading, 2-0, with 20 minutes to play.

Osiander said earlier this year that he had still not accepted that loss. Immediately after the final, he said had the Galaxy won the title, he would have retired.

Before joining MLS, Osiander had served as U.S. national team coach and Olympic team coach. Under his guidance, the U.S. team won the gold medal at the 1991 Pan American Games and qualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Among the players he helped develop are such current U.S. national team standouts as Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Brad Friedel, Joe-Max Moore and Claudio Reyna.

Galaxy players were stunned by the decision.

“I’m very surprised,” defender Mark Semioli said. “This is something we spoke about three or four weeks ago. Lothar addressed the team and said he had signed a new three-year contract. It seemed like it was a move by the organization to give him more stability. It’s as if the team was telling the players, ‘OK, this is the coach. You’d better perform for him.’ We thought Lothar was going to be here for the long run.

“It’s a strange decision, but we are losing. You can’t fire the whole team--although maybe they should, the way we are playing.”

Times Staff Writer Mike Penner contributed to this story.

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