Chris Klein played for the Galaxy in 2008 and was its president in 2017, inglorious bookends to the period in between during which the Galaxy were the most dominant team in MLS.
Over those eight seasons the Galaxy won nearly twice as many games as they lost and made the MLS Cup final four times, winning three titles. On either side, however, was ignominy. In 2008, the team won only eight games, failed to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season and fired its coach in mid-summer.
It was the worst season in franchise history — until the last one, when the team won just eight games, failed to reach the playoffs and fired its coach in mid-summer.
“Yes, there’s similarities,” Klein agreed.
And that imbues this season, which kicks off March 4 at the StubHub Center, with added significance because the field isn’t the only place where the Galaxy have taken it in the soccer shorts.
According to the team, season-ticket sales dropped by nearly 20% this winter, to approximately 9,500 — a number at odds with earlier published figures. This comes in the wake of the average reported attendance of 22,246 last season, an 11.5% drop from 2016 and the lowest in three seasons.
TV ratings averaged about 9,000 viewers a game, which a Charter Communications spokeswoman said represented a gain. Yet it is still far below expectations for a team that signed a 10-year, $55-million broadcast deal in 2011. And if all that weren’t bad enough, after three years as the only MLS team in the market, the Galaxy now faces competition from the upstart Los Angeles Football Club, which moves into its new $350-million home in Exposition Park in April.
“Last year was not a good year for us,” Klein said. “So this year is the most important year. But mostly because it’s the next one. Our ambition and our reality is the same. And that’s why we want to be the best.”
They ended up second-best the last time they had a hill this steep to climb, going from a 13-loss season in 2008 to the 2009 MLS Cup final, where they lost to Real Salt Lake on penalty kicks.
“The thread that I find most consistent is, from ’08 to ’09, we became a team,” he said. “And at least so far, from what we’ve seen in preseason, this group is becoming a team.
“It’s going to take time. Our league is vastly different than it was in 2009. But in terms of the consistent thread of big changeover, important players, yeah, it certainly would mirror some of the things that happened from ’08 to ’09.”
In both cases, change started in the technical area: In 2008, Bruce Arena replaced Ruud Gullit and by the start of the next training camp, more than 20 players had been let go. Last summer, Sigi Schmid took over from Curt Onalfo and cleaned house, getting rid of more than a dozen players.
Gone are more than half of last season’s starting lineup, including former captains Jermaine Jones and Jelle Van Damme, who presided over a deeply fractured locker room. This year, the armband belongs to Ashley Cole, and the difference in atmosphere is as stark as the difference between winning and losing.
“I think you could say hopeful,” Klein said when asked to describe the mood, both during the 2009 preseason as well as this winter. “Certainly when Bruce came in, he brought that. Sigi brings that.
“Sigi feels like this is a team, and a team of quality that can compete. And that is a great starting point for us.”
Gone, too, are the three goalkeepers who combined to give up a franchise-record 67 goals last season and four defenders who allowed that to happen. The midfield has added grit with Perry Kitchen and scoring punch with the return of Sebastian Lletget, who missed all but three games last season because of a foot injury.
Up front, Ola Kamara, who scored 34 times in the last two seasons, replaces Gyasi Zardes, who had eight goals since 2016. And after a three-year slide in spending, the Galaxy’s payroll will tick up this year as well.
The most important change isn’t the players or the size of their paychecks. It’s how they fit together. Last season, when the Galaxy filled out the roster with players from the academy and USL affiliate, the puzzle pieces didn’t match.
How well that puzzle comes together this year won’t be known for several months. Klein said simply winning more games than last year, making the playoffs or even making the MLS Cup final, as his 2009 team did, won’t be enough for him to consider the season a success.
“Our goal is always to win the MLS Cup,” he said. “We have to get into the playoffs to make it there, so that’s certainly the starting point for us.
“With our club, we aim at being the best. But we have to take steps forward. If we end up doing that, we’ll be very happy.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11