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Soccer

Column: Galaxy’s stumbling start puts pressure on Curt Onalfo

CARSON, CA - MARCH 12: Los Angeles Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo prior to Los Angeles Galaxy’s MLS
Under first-year coach Curt Onalfo, the Galaxy is 2-5 and off to their worst seven-game start since 2003.
(Shaun Clark / Getty Images)

The Galaxy have won five MLS Cups, played in 12 conference finals and made the postseason in each of the last seven seasons. So the team is no stranger to big games.

Yet, Saturday’s showdown between the 10th-place Galaxy and winless Philadelphia at StubHub Center looms as one of the more important in the franchise’s recent history, which speaks volumes about the rapid implosion of the most successful and storied franchise in MLS history.

Less than a quarter of the way into Curt Onalfo’s first year as coach the Galaxy are already plumbing depths they haven’t sank to in decades. At 2-5, the team is off to its worst seven-game start since 2003, and the five losses are the most in the first seven games of a season in two decades.

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Even the two victories were only qualified successes since they came against winless teams that played more than half of those games with only 10 men.

A home win over Philadelphia would help arrest that slide and ease some of the frustration and discord that has been building within the team. But a loss to the Union, the league’s worst team, would deepen the Galaxy’s rapidly accelerating spiral.

The numbers tell only part of the story. During Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, two players Onalfo subbed off, midfielder Ema Boateng and defender Ashley Cole, went to the bench without acknowledging the coach, a humiliating breach of soccer etiquette and one that speaks to wider problems within the team.

On the field, Onalfo, who has won only six of his last 31 games as an MLS coach with D.C. United, Kansas City and the Galaxy, had no answer for Seattle’s clearly telegraphed plan to overload the left flank in its attack. And by the end of the game, one in which the Galaxy were booed by their fans, some of the players were openly feuding with one another.

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“We just weren’t on the same page out there,” goalkeeper Brian Rowe said.

How much of that is Onalfo’s fault and how much of it is the responsibility of the players is unclear since the coach, admirably, refuses to publicly criticize the team. However, communication and the lack of a clear game-day strategy appear to be recurring problems.

“I need to speak with my teammates, I need to speak with my coach and we need to be together,” midfielder Romain Alessandrini said last weekend, repeating a mantra others have expressed repeatedly.

Although the team Onalfo has is young and inexperienced at the MLS level — more than half the players on the 27-man roster have made no more than a dozen starts — management clearly believes it has given him a roster to succeed. Asked a week before the season opener whether he liked this year’s team or last year’s veteran squad, which made it to the conference semifinals, president Chris Klein said “I’ll take this one.”

But the players, many of whom Onalfo coached with Galaxy II, the franchise’s USL-based reserve team, have had trouble making the jump to the major leagues. And those growing pains have cast doubt on the front-office’s plan to build its future around its academy system.

Klein, general manager Peter Vagenas and Onalfo were the chief architects of that system and are deeply invested in its success. So is Dan Beckerman, chief executive of AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, and the man who wrote the checks for the academy.

They promised to be patient during the transition but it’s a patience that will fade quickly without some sign of progress. And with the Galaxy moving in the wrong direction, the front office may have to move quickly to save face, if not the season.

“It’s about winning,” Klein said.

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That’s something the Galaxy haven’t done much of this season.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: kbaxter11


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