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Column: Showcasing Chicharito a priority for new Galaxy coach Greg Vanney

Greg Vanney smiles.
Greg Vanney smiles during a match between Toronto FC and Columbus Crew in September. Vanney was introduced as the Galaxy’s coach Wednesday.
(Jessica Hill / Associated Press)

What Greg Vanney envisions for the Galaxy starts with a simple idea: Hold the ball more than the other team.

The concept will serve as the foundation for the team under Vanney, who was introduced as the team’s new head coach in a videoconference call Wednesday.

If properly implemented, the philosophy will unlock striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who scored only twice in 12 games in his first season with the team. It will serve as a cultural touchstone. It will return the Galaxy to its rightful position as Major League Soccer’s signature team.

“I think it’s imperative that we define right away what our style of play is, what our vision for our game model is,” Vanney said.

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Almost every coach makes promises like this to be proactive. No coach will say on the first day that he intends on defending with 10 players behind the ball.

What makes Vanney credible is his track record, a seven-year stint that transformed Toronto FC from a sub-.500 team to one of the most successful clubs in Major League Soccer. He captured an MLS Cup and came within a shootout of winning the CONCACAF Champions League.

Vanney will look to rebuild the identity of a once-dominant team that has fallen on hard times.

Greg Vanney, an ex-Galaxy player who wants to lead the franchise back to success, will be introduced Wednesday as the 12th manager in team history.

The Galaxy remain the team of the superstar, with Mexican striker Hernández taking on the role previously occupied by the likes of David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the presence of a high-priced headliner hasn’t translated into results in recent years, as the team has missed the playoffs in three of the last four years. Worse, the Galaxy have looked as if they have no discernible philosophy, no idea of how they wanted to play.

With Vanney, there will be no such equivocations. A former Galaxy and U.S. national team defender comfortable with the ball at his feet, Vanney likes for his teams to gradually build out of the back and control the pace of the game.

Vanney is confident the development of a style will benefit Hernández, who often looked as if he was alone on an island last season, much like Ibrahimovic did before him.

Hernández isn’t the kind of the player who will score after dribbling around three or four players. He is a poacher with unusual talent for finding openings in the penalty box and counts on teammates to deliver him the ball there.

“For us, what’s important is to help him by having a clear way of how we want to create chances … because a forward like that reads off of what’s going on around him in order for him to then organize the spaces that he needs to finish in,” Vanney said.

Galaxy's Greg Vanney runs with the ball.
Galaxy’s Greg Vanney runs with the ball against the Kansas City Wizards at the Rose Bowl.
(Jeff Gross / Allsport )

While Vanney is committed to ball possession, he is flexible when it comes to details, which should be encouraging to Hernández.

Vanney used a two-striker system to accommodate Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. He created space for the front-line tandem by lining up a five-man midfield. He played with three in the back at times, four in the back at others.

In any sport, players prefer attacking to defending. Vanney is hopeful that his offense-minded approach will win over the players and result in them buying into the more laborious elements of what he considers championship culture.

“It’s really about … not looking for problems but finding solutions and being willing to go the extra mile under any circumstances,” Vanney said.

The Galaxy used to have that mind-set.

Vanney played for the team in its first six years of existence from 1996 to 2001. He recalled how the Galaxy used to practice on grass fields outside the Rose Bowl. Before the players could train, they had to pick up and discard shards of glass. While practicing, they had to be mindful of manhole covers.

The team later moved to a baseball field across the street. The grass there was glass and manhole free, but presented another problem: a lack of space.

Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe are called up for the U.S. national team’s training camp. Alex Morgan won’t be there after a positive COVID-19 test.

“Somehow we managed to get to three championships playing in circumstances like that,” Vanney said. “That mentality is what it means to me to be a part of the Galaxy.”

Vanney was proud of how Toronto FC responded to the difficulties it encountered after the MLS returned from its COVID-19 shutdown. Travel restrictions between the United States and Canada forced the team to temporarily relocate to Connecticut, but it nonetheless competed for the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to the team with the best regular-season record.

“He’s a winning coach,” Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese said.

While the Galaxy can point to its record five MLS Cups as evidence that it remains the league’s premier brand, crosstown rival LAFC can claim that its superior style in recent years makes it a representative of the latest step in the MLS’s evolution.

Vanney wants the Galaxy to once again be the league’s standard-bearer, which will require it to replicate the results of the past with his modernized approach.


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