Column: Offseason moves give the Galaxy reason to smile
Chris Klein slid behind a heavy wooden table, folded his hands on top and grinned.
The last 26 months have been rough for the Galaxy’s president, who has gone through four coaches, two years without a playoff berth and 30 losses, a franchise record for consecutive seasons. Minutes earlier he had presided over a news conference in which he introduced the two men he looks upon to be the team’s saviors: Dennis te Kloese, the new general manager, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the new coach.
The gloomy clouds, it seems, are parting, giving Klein reason to smile.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “But the optimism is real. A fresh perspective in bringing these guys in to lead it is something I’m certainly encouraged by.”
He’s encouraged, too, by the re-signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a one-year, $7.2-million contract, the richest in MLS history, as well as the decision of Dominic Kinnear, the Galaxy’s caretaker coach at the end of last season, to return as part of Schelotto’s staff. Some deft offseason shuffling has allowed the Galaxy to return 10 starters while banking $1 million.
“We are feeling very positive,” echoed Dan Beckerman, chief executive officer of the team’s parent company, entertainment giant AEG. “We have a lot of the right pieces in place, on the field and off.”
Most important is the fact that the pieces seem to fit together, something that hasn’t always been the case with the Galaxy. The team can no longer afford the mistakes of the last two seasons, when it spent more than $2.5 million to bring in players such as Michael Ciani, Joao Pedro, Jermaine Jones and Jorgen Skjelvik, all of whom disappointed.
“You learn from all the experiences that we’ve had,” Klein said.
Te Kloese returns to MLS from the Mexican soccer federation, where he ran the national team program. Before that he was in charge of the federation’s youth national teams, ran scouting or player development departments for two Mexican league clubs and was soccer director for Chivas USA, helping that team to four consecutive playoff appearances.
He is highly regarded for his work in youth development — he saw Mexico win a U-17 World Cup and an Olympic title — expertise the Galaxy will need as they continue efforts to link the first team with Galaxy II, their USL affiliate, and their academy program.
“With the great investment that the Galaxy [have] in their academy and in their second team, there should be a real development project,” Te Kloese said. “Far from being an academy, it should be a project that really develops players. Because there’s potential, there’s talent.”
The Galaxy also have to give that talent a chance to play. The team was stung last fall by the departures of U-20 national team players Uly Llanez and Alex Mendez, who left in part because they saw no clear path to the first team.
“The only thing to attract these players and keep these players is if they feel that there’s an opportunity,” Te Kloese said.
Schelotto, who won an MLS Cup as a player with the Columbus Crew, comes to the Galaxy from Argentine superclub Boca Juniors, which he coached to consecutive Primera Division titles and a berth in last year’s Copa Libertadores final. Before that, he took Lanus to a Copa Sudamericana title in his first coaching stop.
He is a proponent of attractive, attacking soccer and, like Te Kloese, believes in young players (six of the 11 starters he fielded in the last Copa Libertadores game were younger than 26).
“To appoint Guillermo, that was a huge point. In the two jobs he had in Argentina, he’s been open to that,” Te Kloese said.
The Galaxy talked to other candidates and were close to hiring former Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, but Schelotto was always Te Kloese’s first choice. So when Boca Juniors announced in mid-December that they would not be extending Schelotto’s contract, Te Kloese pounced, closing the deal in less than two weeks.
“I do feel like we found the right people,” Beckerman said. “Dennis has a top-to-bottom vision and philosophy, and his first priority was hiring the head coach. Now he will turn his attention to building out the rest of the structure. The important thing is that we get the structure right, from the academy to Galaxy II to the first team.”
With just two weeks until the opening of training camp, there’s much left undone. Ibrahimovic’s contract requires a designated-player tag, one the Galaxy will have to create by trading, releasing or renegotiating the contract of one of their three current DPs — Romain Alessandrini, Jonathan dos Santos or Gio dos Santos.
“What that’s going to look like we genuinely don’t know yet,” Klein said.
In addition, Te Kloese must hire a full-time academy director, something the Galaxy have been without for two years, and fill out a thin scouting department that shrunk further last week when top scout Kurt Schmid was named technical director for David Beckham’s fledgling team in Miami.
Te Kloese also wants to reorient the Galaxy’s scouting philosophy toward Latin America, both to take advantage of the contacts he and Schelotto have in the region and to further explore what has been an attractive market for MLS clubs in recent years. The Galaxy were the only MLS team without a South American player last season.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Te Kloese admitted. “And to be honest, I think that was part of the decision to come here. There’s a whole lot of things in place, there’s a whole lot of resources, there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle that already are here.
“But there’s also a few pieces missing and a few pieces a little bit out of place.”
Most of the missing pieces are on the back line. Behind a team-high 22 scores from Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy were third in the league with 66 goals last season. But they also gave up 64, fifth most in MLS.
“We need additions there,” Klein said of the defense.
That’s just a minor detail. Now that the dark clouds have parted, a rosier big picture has come into focus and Klein is enjoying the view.
“The future,” Klein promised, “looks bright for us.”