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Full of Galaxy alumni, new coaching staff looks to rebuild club’s culture, confidence

Coach Greg Vanney smiles during the first half of an MLS soccer match.
Former Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney takes over the reins for the Galaxy.
(Jessica Hill / Associated Press)

It was an arrangement borne of convenience and financial necessity.

Kevin Hartman, a senior goalkeeper at UCLA, agreed to share an apartment with Greg Vanney, a former teammate who just had joined a start-up professional league known as Major League Soccer. As a college athlete Hartman didn’t earn a salary and Vanney, playing for a fledgling Galaxy franchise, made little more.

But the relationship they built and the things they learned endured, and half a lifetime later the two have come together again, reunited after the Galaxy made Vanney their manager and he hired Hartman as his goalkeeper coach. Joining them is Dan Calichman, another member of that first Galaxy team and Vanney’s top assistant during six successful seasons in Toronto.

“I was extremely fortunate … going on a pretty exciting adventure right from the start,” said Hartman, 46, who tagged along with Vanney and Calichman to Galaxy games that first season, then played alongside them the next one.

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The last time they were together was 1998, when they helped the Galaxy win their first trophy. The team won its last trophy seven years ago, followed by the longest title drought in franchise history.

LAFC opens its fourth season Saturday when it hosts expansion club Austin FC, and the Galaxy begin their schedule Sunday at David Beckham’s Inter Miami.

So Vanney, Hartman and Calichman have been tasked with returning the team to prominence, something they’ll try to start Sunday when the Galaxy open the season against an Inter Miami team co-owned by David Beckham, another well-known Galaxy alum.

To accomplish that Vanney and Co. will have to do more than just rebuild the roster, which remains a work in progress. They also must rebuild the club’s culture and confidence and no one understands the importance of those intangibles better than three of the people who set that foundation in the first place.

“The Galaxy is a different club, it’s a different place, it’s a different set of players, it’s a different history,” said Vanney, 46, who in January became the 10th manager in team history. “The culture is also defined by where you are, by your fans, what your fans expect.

“Some of the cultural pieces are very specific to just the Galaxy and the history of the Galaxy and stuff that we want to draw into so every new player that comes understands what it means to wear the Galaxy crest and to represent this club.”

Bringing that culture back is personal for the new coaching staff, said Calichman, 53.

“It’s part of our legacy. It’s important that as a group we all understand the history,” he said. “And it’s not about living the past. It’s about understanding where we’ve come [from] so we have a clearer picture of where we want to go.

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“We appreciate and understand the history and the responsibility that comes with that when you put on a Galaxy shirt.”

For Vanney, that all began with Lothar Osiander, the German-born manager who coached the Galaxy in their first two seasons. Knowing the struggles the team would face in the beginning, when players had to share their practice fields with softball teams or clear them of glass and rocks before training, Osiander recruited highly motivated self-starters, players with solid characters and high soccer IQs.

Vanney says that’s a big reason why 10 players from that first roster went on to become pro or college coaches. But the Galaxy strayed from those beginnings in recent years.

WBA goalkeeper Jonathan Bond reacts during the FA Cup.
Jonathan Bond takes over as the starting goalkeeper for the Galaxy,
(Stu Forster / Getty Images)

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“The club had definitely gone through some cultural transition. Some good, maybe some not as good,” Vanney said. “What we’re trying to catch from a culture standpoint is very similar to what we lived in 1996 in many ways, which is just simply defined as a good group of guys who each understand and have a purpose in trying to help this team to be a championship contender.”

To help do that Vanney added veteran midfielder Víctor Vázquez, who led his treble-winning 2017 Toronto team in appearances, to a leadership core than includes Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget, Daniel Steres and Sacha Kljestan. The Galaxy also shored up a defense that allowed an average of 63 goals in each of its last three full seasons by replacing goalkeeper David Bingham with Englishman Jonathan Bond.

Up front the Galaxy are counting on a bounce-back season from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández — whose two goals last season were the fewest since he left Mexico more than a dozen years ago — as well as contributions from young French imports Samuel Grandsir and the recently signed Kévin Cabral, who isn’t in the U.S. yet and won’t play in Sunday’s opener as he awaits his visa.

Soccer-wise, Carli Lloyd did not have a happy 2020. However, the year turned out to be one of her best once she reunited with her family from which she was estranged.

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“I don’t ever believe that tearing something down to the studs and starting over isn’t necessary,” said Vanney, who brought in a dozen new players this winter. “There are a lot of good things that are in place. And as we move forward, we should never forget those things. And we should never leave those behind or tear them up.

“We need to use them to build in the direction that we want to go and make the best possible use of those things that already exist.”

Because if you get the culture right, there’s a good chance success will follow.

Galaxy schedule

(Times Pacific)

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April 18: at Inter Miami, noon; 25: vs. New York Red Bulls, 2:30 p.m.

May 2: at Seattle, 6 p.m.; 8: vs. LAFC, 5 p.m.; 15: vs. Austin, 12:30 p.m.; 22: at Portland, 12:30 p.m.; 29: vs. San Jose, 5 p.m..

June 19: vs. Seattle, 6 p.m.; 23: at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m.; 26: vs. San Jose at Stanford Stadium, 7 p.m.

July 4: vs. Sporting KC, 7:30 p.m.; 7: vs. Dallas, 7:30 p.m.; 17: at Vancouver, 7 p.m.; 21: at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m.; 24: at Dallas, 5:30 p.m.; 30: vs. Portland, 7 p.m..

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Aug. 4: vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m.; 8: vs. Vancouver, 5 p.m.; 14: at Minnesota, 3 p.m.; 17: vs. Colorado, 7:30 p.m.; 20: vs. San Jose, 7 p.m.; 28: at LAFC, 5 p.m.

Sept. 11: at Colorado, 12:30 p.m.; 15: vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.; 18: at Minnesota, 5 p.m.; 26: at Austin, TBD; 29: at Real Salt Lake, 6:30 p.m.

Oct 3: vs. LAFC, 5 p.m.; 16: vs. Portland, 7:30 p.m.; 20: at Houston, 5:30 p.m.; 23: vs. Dallas, 12:30 p.m.; 27: at Sporting KC, 5:30 p.m.

Nov. 1: at Seattle, 7 p.m.; 7: vs, Minnesota, 3 p.m.


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