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Galaxy is building for 2019 with key leadership positions yet to be filled

Galaxy is building for 2019 with key leadership positions yet to be filled
Forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy's leading scorer in 2018, hasn't committed to returning to the club next season. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When the Galaxy abruptly fired Sigi Schmid as coach in early September, the team said it was making the move to get a jump on next season. Nearly three months later, the outer bands of next season have arrived and the Galaxy are in greater disarray now than then.

Monday was the MLS deadline for teams to announce which contract options they will pick up for 2019 and which unsigned players will be offered new deals, decisions that will go a long way to determining the makeup of rosters for next year. Yet, those were decisions the Galaxy made without a permanent coach or a director of soccer operations — both positions remain vacant — and with only a vague commitment from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the team’s leading scorer, that he’ll return.

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Others whose futures are in doubt include captain Ashley Cole and veteran midfielder Baggio Husidic, the final link to the team’s last MLS Cup win in 2014. Both were among eight players who had their contract options declined Monday.

Options were also declined on defender Michael Ciani, goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, forward Ariel Lassiter, defenders Sheanon Williams and Rolf Feltscher, and midfielder Servando Carrasco. That doesn’t mean the Galaxy have cut ties with all of them, however, since the team continues to negotiate with some of those players.

Those eight made more than $2 million combined in 2018.

The team picked up options on midfielders Bradford Jamieson and Sebastian Lletget, goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg and defender Daniel Steres, and will continue negotiating with defender Dave Romney and midfielders Chris Pontius and Emmanuel Boateng.

But whether the players retained are ones the new soccer operations people want in 2019 remains to be seen since the new soccer operations people also remain to be seen, or selected, long after the Galaxy began preparing for next year.

When team President Chris Klein announced three weeks ago the firing of Pete Vagenas, the vice president for soccer operations, he said he wanted to hire a player-personnel person quickly to manage the offseason moves.

“There are decisions that need to be made. Certainly we don’t want to make those without people that are going to be in charge heading into next year,” he said.

That didn’t happen so Monday’s decisions were made collectively “by the 2018 coaching staff and the remaining soccer operations group,” a club spokesman said. In other words, by some of the same people who guided the team to no playoff appearances and a franchise-worst 30 losses over the last two years.

Klein appeared to be betting on two candidates for the team’s most pressing openings, one that was a long shot and another that seemed a sure thing. So far neither wager has paid off and the Galaxy say the timeline for the soccer hires remains fluid.

For his coaching vacancy Klein had reportedly been considering Gregg Berhalter, a former teammate and Galaxy assistant. But Berhalter has also been heavily pursued by the U.S. national team, which is expected to hire Berhalter as coach shortly.

The job as director of soccer operations was offered this month to Dennis Te Kloese, the director of national teams for the Mexican soccer federation (FMF), according to a former MLS official briefed on the situation. However, Te Kloese has had second thoughts about accepting.

“I first have to get my head around some things at the FMF,” he said last week. “I have been working there since 2011 and will need a couple of weeks to see where we stand.”

So the Galaxy careen toward 2019 with no captain, no coach and no clear sense of what kind of team they want to be. As a result, Ibrahimovic is keeping his options open, saying he remains committed to the Galaxy while his agent, Mino Raiola, continues very public talks with Italian club A.C. Milan, perhaps hoping for nothing more than a better MLS deal.

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In the meantime, 2019 draws closer.

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