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Column: Young Galaxy suffers growing pains in first half of MLS season

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Romain Alessandrini, an offseason acquisition, is the Galaxy leader with eight goals and seven assists this season.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

To say the first half of the MLS season hasn’t gone according to plan for the Galaxy is obvious. And a bit misleading.

Obvious because the team didn’t set out to have a losing record and be three points out of a playoff spot heading into the league’s two-week Gold Cup break. But misleading because parts of the team’s blueprint for the season have gone largely as planned.

The Galaxy wanted to get younger and they have, with nearly half the team’s starting spots in the first 18 games going to players 25 or younger. They wanted to build out their roster with graduates of their development system and they’ve done that, too, with homegrown players and products of the Galaxy’s USL affiliate accounting for 40% of the minutes played this season.

They’ve even trimmed the payroll, from $16.1 million in base salaries last season to $9.8 million this season, according to figures provided by the players union.

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What the Galaxy didn’t plan on, though, was a series of injuries, suspensions and international call-ups that left them without as many as 12 players for stretches of the first half. And when that happened, there was no Plan B.

“As we evaluate the first half of the season, clearly it’s been up and down. And not a lot of in between,” team president Chris Klein said. “There’s some positives with some of the new players that we’ve brought in. But some things clearly need to get better.”

It was a first half that included an eight-game MLS unbeaten streak, a league-best 5-3-1 road record, a berth in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals and eight goals and seven assists from newcomer Romain Alessandrini.

However, there was also a league-worst 1-5-3 record at home, an exhausting stretch of seven games in 21 days and a three-game losing streak, the team’s longest in regular-season play in five seasons.

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Only five times in their first 21 seasons have the Galaxy (6-8-4 and eighth in the 12-team Western Conference) been this bad through 18 games. The last time, in 2012, they rallied to win a second-straight MLS Cup.

And while Klein isn’t saying that will happen again, he did promise the team isn’t about to abandon its new philosophy.

“Going into this year….we had a collective decision: Do we tinker with this or do we rip the Band-Aid off? And we very much ripped the Band-Aid off,” he said. “When you are building something, it’s going to take time. We’ve had a tremendous amount of our young players that have played this year. Honestly, it’s been far too much. That was never the design.

“But with injuries and what’s been thrown at us, the necessity is that they’ve had to play. In certain instances they’ve done very well. In others they have not.”

Klein and the rest of the front office entered the winter wanting to reinvigorate a roster that had grown old. In its final game last season, the Galaxy used eight players who were at least 32. In its last game this season, the average age of the 14 players was 24.1; just one was older than 28.

But what the team gained in youth it lost in experience and leadership, jettisoning the likes of Alan Gordon, Robbie Keane, Jeff Larentowicz, A.J. DeLaGarza, Dan Kennedy, Mike Magee and Landon Donovan, all of whom had played at least 125 games in MLS.

Of the players who dressed for the most recent game, only one, forward Jack McInerney, had played in that many.

The Galaxy even replaced the coaching staff. When coach and general manager Bruce Arena left for the national team, taking his assistants with him, Klein promoted Galaxy II manager Curt Onalfo, who has struggled at times to get everyone on the same page. Pete Vagenas, a former academy director, became the new GM and has also played a role in the team’s transition.

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“Even in a historically successful season you have ups and down. So we’re not looking at either the unbeaten stretch or some of the valleys as the hallmark of our season. We’re looking at the overall picture and trying to build and trying to stay committed and disciplined in our approach,” said Klein, who gives the organization a C- for the season’s first half.

“Has everything worked out the way we wanted? No. But it never does.”

Among the things that didn’t work out? Four defenders have more goals than forward Gyasi Zardes, and team captain Jelle Van Damme is tied for the league lead in both yellow and red cards, having been expelled twice this season.

In goal, Brian Rowe and Clement Diop have stopped just 57.3% of the shots they faced, the worst percentage for a keeper tandem in the league.

Fixing all that in the middle of the season may not be possible. Although the Galaxy say they have money to spend and continue to search for a third designated player — French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac is among the names mentioned most often — signing one now would likely leave the team without an open DP spot until 2019, giving the roster little wiggle room over the next season and a half.

In the meantime, the fans, who haven’t seen their team miss the playoffs since 2008, are growing impatient. They’ve already booed the team off the field three times; now they’re considering more drastic actions.

“Everyone’s pretty depressed,” said Andrew Alesana, a member of the Riot Squad supporters group for 11 years and a season-ticket holder for 10.

“A lot of people are considering not renewing season tickets and not coming to games,” continued Alesana, who gave the Galaxy an F for the first half of the season. “I’m pretty upset. I’m personally staging some sort of protest at the next game.”

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After the last one — an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Real Salt Lake in which the Galaxy tied a franchise record for goals allowed — that sense of desperation spread to the locker room as well.

“We have to change something,” an exasperated Ema Boateng said. “You have to show [up] and you have to do the job. It’s as simple as that.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: kbaxter11


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