The Galaxy’s charter flight home from Sunday’s loss to D.C. United didn’t touch down until early Monday morning. A few hours later, Dennis te Kloese, the team’s general manager, was in the office hard at work.
“Of course. I have to be,” he said, surprised anyone would think he would choose sleep over work. “There’s so much to do here, I have to come in.”
At this point, it might help to think of Te Kloese as an architect rather than a sports executive and of Galaxy manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto as a contractor rather than a coach. Together, they are working on a large and complicated renovation.
Some of the foundation had been laid before they started, but it’s weak and crumbling in spots. A few pillars have been raised, but not enough to give the project shape because the previous builders didn’t really have a plan. So now Te Kloese tinkers with new blueprints, erasing things here, scribbling ideas there, all while trying to keep the structure that is in place from crashing down.
“It takes, obviously, a lot of effort and a lot of hard work to get pieces in place. And there’s no guarantee for success,” said Te Kloese, who has a clear vision for what he wants the Galaxy to look like but no timeline for how long it will take to build the team.
“It would be difficult to put ourselves in a spot like, ‘It takes so much time.’ Day by day, we need to work on how we can improve. And then there needs to be frequent and daily communication with everybody — within the club and also within the coaching staff — on what would be the pieces going forward that we need.”
The rebuilding has been as extensive as it has been methodical, with Te Kloese reconstructing the first-team roster, the player-development department and the team’s finances, all with an eye toward making what he has drawn on the blueprints: a team that will play with an attractive passing style, build quickly and fluidly out of the back, and push forward in numbers to score goals in bunches.
Some of the building blocks are in place: Last week’s addition of Argentine winger Cristian Pavon, who starred under Schelotto with Boca Juniors, is a big part of the puzzle. Important additions include defenders Giancarlo Gonzalez and Diego Polenta and midfielders Favio Alvarez, Joe Corona and Uriel Antuna — among the six starters Te Kloese and Schelotto have recruited from Latin America since January.
They haven’t always fit well with the team Te Kloese inherited when he came over from the Mexican soccer federation last winter, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in two seasons while losing 30 games, the worst two-year stretch in franchise history. Eight months later, the Galaxy (12-11-1) are still struggling, heading into Wednesday’s home game against FC Dallas ranked 21st in the 24-team MLS in scoring with 31 goals. The Galaxy’s goal differential of minus-5 is the worst of the top eight teams in the Western Conference.
“It takes time, and that’s the reality of the thing,” Te Kloese said. “[Do] we have all the time in the world? No, we don’t. We need to come up with results, and we need to be good with what we have.”
Te Kloese and Schelotto are not new to MLS. Te Kloese, 44, a native of the Netherlands who speaks four languages, was sporting director at Chivas USA, helping the team to three consecutive playoff appearances between stays with two Mexican club teams and a stint as director of national teams for the Mexican federation. Before coaching Boca Juniors to a pair of Argentine titles, Schelotto, 46, played four seasons for the Columbus Crew, leading them to an MLS championship and winning both league and MLS Cup MVP awards.
In the locker room, their presence has brought a mix of cautious optimism and anxiety. Optimism because the team has a clear direction and playing style. Anxiety because the aggressive roster remake and the addition of so many players from Latin America have many others wondering whether they have a future with the club.
Te Kloese began the overhaul in March when he allowed Ola Kamara to leave for China and then bought out Giovani dos Santos’ contract, bringing the team much-needed roster and salary space. Then, last week, he sold Ema Boateng to D.C. United to fund Pavon’s signing.
On the player-development side, Te Kloese fired Mike Munoz, the former academy director and coach of the Galaxy’s USL affiliate, replacing him with Juan Carlos Ortega — who worked closely with Te Kloese at the Mexican soccer federation — and coach Junior Gonzalez.
There will be more tough decisions to make this winter, especially in regard to designated players Romain Alessandrini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They will make a combined $9.14 million this season but might not have a place in Schelotto’s playing style going forward.
Getting the Galaxy into the playoffs is the bare-minimum result Te Kloese needs this season. But he can’t stray from the long-term blueprint to do that.
“This is like a work in progress still,” Te Kloese said shortly after taking over. “On one end, the Galaxy needs to be competitive and held against our results. On the other hand, [there are] decisions you need to make to go to a long-term process.
“It’s a bit of a balance. You need to be good short term and be able to work long term.”