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Soccer

Galaxy prepare to face Seattle Sounders in first game under coach Sigi Schmid

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Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme kicks the ball away from Anthony Martial of Manchester United during an exhibition game on July 15, 2017, at StubHub Center.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Daniel Steres didn’t bother to check his phone Thursday morning, so it wasn’t until he got to work that he learned the coach he played for much of his professional career was gone.

Hours earlier the Galaxy had fired Curt Onalfo, 20 games into his first season with the team, and replaced him with Sigi Schmid, who will be on the sidelines Saturday when the Galaxy meet Schmid’s former team, the Seattle Sounders, at the StubHub Center (7 p.m., ESPN, ESPN Deportes)

Steres, a talented defender whom Onalfo had taken under his wing, said the change is one he’s struggling with.

“It was kind of a shock,” he said Friday.

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Dave Romney is also having trouble with the news. Onalfo signed Romney to his first professional contract with the Galaxy’s USL affiliate, then pushed the versatile defender for promotion to the first team.

“I owe a lot of credit to Curt,” he said. “I feel it a bit more than most.”

But with the injury-riddled Galaxy near the bottom of the standings and mired in a five-game losing streak, the team’s longest in a decade, Romney agreed something had to happen.

“There’s a lot of unlucky factors in there. But there’s obvious factors where us, as the players, are ultimately responsible. The coaching staff, everybody.

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“I completely understand the change. It’s just tough. Someone had to, I guess, take the brunt.”

Late Friday, Onalfo spoke for himself.

“The first half of the 2017 season was filled with tremendous adversity,” he wrote in a text, referencing injuries to seven starters and national team call-ups that cost him two more players. “I never made excuses, did my best to compete daily and tried to handle myself with dignity and class under tremendous and sometimes very unfair scrutiny.

“I thought I had the support of management. I had planned to use the second half of the season to push for the playoffs.

“Needless to say, I’m very disappointed to not have been given that opportunity. While I’m adamantly opposed to the organization’s decision, I wish nothing but the best for the Galaxy.”

The timing of the change, coming one year and one day after Schmid was fired in Seattle, seems more eerie than ironic.

When the Sounders let Schmid go last July, the team had six wins in 20 games and stood ninth in the Western Conference standings. When the Galaxy hired Schmid on Thursday, the team had six wins in 20 games and stood ninth in the Western Conference standings.

The Sounders’ first game after the change was a home match with the Galaxy. The Galaxy’s first game after the change is a home match with the Sounders.

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“It’s a great storyline for you guys,” Schmid told reporters Friday.

If the parallels continue, it could be a great one for the Galaxy, too, because after Brian Schmetzer took over for Schmid in Seattle, the Sounders rallied to sneak into the playoffs, then went on to win their first MLS Cup.

“It’s a big challenge. But it’s not impossible,” said Schmid, who won a record 254 games and two league titles with the Galaxy, Columbus Crew and Sounders in a 17-year MLS career. “The important thing is to just get into the playoffs. So that’s our objective.”

To do that, the Galaxy will have to jump over three teams and make up a five-point gap in 14 games to finish in top six in the conference. They also need to win at home, where they are a league-worst 1-6-3.

“If really just depends on how we do now,” Steres said. “If that starts happening…then it will be the right decision. Maybe it’s the spark we need.”

Steres then paused and reflected on what had been a whirlwind 36 hours.

“It’s a weird week for sure,” he said. “It’s crazy how it happened this way.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11


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