Galaxy select Curt Onalfo as new coach to replace Bruce Arena

Curt Onalfo replaces Bruce Arena as the Galaxy's head coach.
(Los Angeles Galaxy / YouTube)

When Curt Onalfo joined Bruce Arena on the Galaxy coaching staff five years ago, the goal was to learn as much as possible from the man many considered to be the best coach in U.S. Soccer.

Turns out he got a lot more than that, with the Galaxy choosing Onalfo to succeed Arena as head coach of Major League Soccer’s marquee franchise. The team has scheduled a news conference Tuesday to formally introduce him as the eighth manager in franchise history.

But anyone expecting Onalfo to simply follow in his mentor’s footsteps is going to be disappointed, the new coach promised.


“I’m my own person,” said Onalfo, a former Galaxy assistant who has spent the past three seasons as head coach of Galaxy II, the team’s USL affiliate. “I have my own way, I have my own style. Has he shaped me in certain parts of how I am as a coach? Absolutely.

“But I have a different way of doing things.”

Arena has certainly left Onalfo with a tough act to follow.

When he returned to the U.S. national team last month, replacing the fired Jurgen Klinsmann, the Hall of Famer left MLS as the most decorated coach in league history with five league titles, 234 victories and playoff appearances in each of his eight full seasons with the Galaxy

He also left Onalfo with a team in transition. Not only will he have to assemble a coaching staff -- Arena is expected to announce later this week that three of his Galaxy assistants, Kenny Arena, Pat Noonan and Matt Reis will follow him to the U.S. national team -- but earlier this fall Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, the top two goal scorers in Galaxy history, also moved on.

Yet the cupboard is hardly bare. The Galaxy made it to the conference semifinals last season and eight of their starters return, including league MVP candidate Gio dos Santos, goalkeeper Brian Rowe and team captain Jelle Van Damme.

“We feel very good about the core that we have,” team President Chris Klein said.

Onalfo’s promotion suggests an even larger transition is beginning, however. Before taking over Galaxy II, a USL affiliate that serves as a farm team for the MLS club, Onalfo coached the Galaxy reserve team, making him familiar with the team’s player-development structure. And his appointment, together with the appointment of former academy director Peter Vagenas as general manager, shows the team is moving away from a strict adherence to the philosophy Arena followed in building his rosters.

In the Galaxy’s season opener last March, only three of the 11 starters were drafted by the club or were products of its developmental system; six others came from Europe. But with Onalfo, Vagenas and Klein – another former academy director – now in charge, the Galaxy figure to turn inward, relying more heavily on their academy system.


“All of us are invested in this. We’ve helped build this and get it to the point where it is today,” Onalfo said. “And we feel very strongly that we’re just going to move this forward in a positive manner.”

Onalfo, 47, a defender on the first Galaxy team in 1996, has more in common with Klein and Vagenas than a background in player development. Klein, 40, was a four-time MLS all-star midfielder while Vagenas, 38, was captain of the 2005 MLS Cup champions, making next year’s team the first in the franchise’s 22-year history in which the president, general manager and coach will all be former Galaxy players.

Onalfo is also an Arena disciple who played for his former boss at the University of Virginia and with D.C. United before coaching under him with the national team. And while he was the clear favorite among the handful of candidates Klein considered, his appointment doesn’t come without risks.

Although Onalfo guided Galaxy II to 46 wins and three playoff appearances in as many years, he’s had mixed results in two stints as an MLS head coach, going 30-41-25 in parts of four seasons at D.C. United and Kansas City and getting fired twice despite leading the Wizards to the conference semifinals in his first two seasons in Kansas City.

How well he does with the Galaxy will reflect directly on Klein since Onalfo is the highest-profile signing in his four years as president. And though the coach is replacing a legend, both he and Klein are confident the choice was the right one.

“Curt obviously had some institutional knowledge with us that gave him an upper hand,” Klein said. “But he really stood above … everyone we interviewed. He credentials stood on their own.”


Added Onalfo: “I was the right choice for right now. I feel like I’ve earned it and I deserve it. And I’m extremely confident.”

Twitter: @kbaxter11