From his seat on the dais at a news conference called in his honor Thursday, Guillermo Barros Schelotto could stare out on the field where he played arguably the finest game of his finest MLS season a decade ago.
Schelotto assisted on all three Columbus Crew goals that day, earning game MVP honors to cap a 2008 season in which he was also the league MVP.
A lot has changed since that MLS Cup final.
On Thursday the field he looked out upon had football goal posts, not soccer nets, at either end. And the stadium surrounding it has gone through three names in 10 years. But it was the one thing that was the same that brought Schelotto back to Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Galaxy failed to qualify for the postseason in 2008, the last time — until this past year — they missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. So the club plucked Schelotto from his native Argentina, where he was coaching one of South America’s most iconic clubs, and brought him back to his own personal field of dreams in an effort to change the fortunes of one of this country’s most iconic clubs.
Schelotto, 45, takes over a club that has won a record five league titles yet hasn’t reached the MLS Cup final for four seasons, its longest drought ever. And it’s coming off its worst two-season stretch in history, one in which it lost 30 games and finished last in the Western Conference for the first time.
“That’s part of my job, changing the attitude,” he said. “Things haven’t gone well the last two years but we have to stay positive and the results will change.”
That approach worked for him twice before. At Boca Juniors he took over a team that had finished 10th in 2016 and took it to consecutive Primera Division titles. And in his first try at managing, he took over a Lanus team that had finished 10th the season before and guided it to a Copa Sudamericana title, only the second international trophy in the team’s 98-year history.
“He came into both teams in situations where there was a lot of need for organization, a lot of need for structure and a lot of need for quality decisions,” said Dennis te Kloese, the Galaxy’s new general manager. “In the position that we’re at, we can obviously take great advantage of his knowledge.”
Schelotto has been on the Galaxy’s radar since last September, when the team fired Sigi Schmid with six games left in the regular season. But the Galaxy also talked with former Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, among others.
Schelotto’s situation was complicated further when Boca Juniors’ Copa Libertadores final with River Plate was delayed nearly three weeks — eventually being relocated from Buenos Aires to Madrid — after River fans attacked the Boca bus, injuring several players. It wasn’t until after that game that Boca announced it would not be renewing the coach’s contract, freeing him to negotiate a deal with the Galaxy.
“We made a profile of what would be our ideal head coach; a certain set of skills and certain set of characteristics,” Te Kloese said. “Guillermo fits the bill perfectly.”
Schelotto, meanwhile, was drawn to the Galaxy not only by the chance to turn around another big club but also by the growth of the league in which he once played.
“The players are getting better and better,” he said. “For me it’s a bit challenging coaching here. I like the country. I like the league.
“For me, it was an easy decision.”
A versatile attacker in his playing days with Gimnasia La Plata and Boca Juniors in Argentina and with Columbus in MLS from 2007-10, Schelotto coaches his teams to play in the same attractive and aggressive style. That should fit well with a Galaxy team, led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that was third in the league with 66 goals last season.
But the Galaxy also gave up 131 goals the last two years, a problem that became obvious to Schelotto as he binge-watched tapes of last season’s games.
“I know what we have to do and [at] what position we have to bring [in] some players,” said the coach, who leaves Friday for the six-day MLS combine in Orlando, followed by the league SuperDraft in Chicago. The Galaxy open preseason training camp in a little over two weeks.