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Once the model MLS franchise, the Galaxy are mired in major slump. When will it end?

Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljic shrugs during a loss to Colorado on July 16.
Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljic shrugs during a loss to Colorado on July 16. The Galaxy, who’ve won a record five MLS Cups, have made the playoffs just once since 2016.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Shortly before kickoff of the Galaxy-Atlanta United game on Sunday, a plane was scheduled to circle Dignity Health Sports Park towing a banner calling for the ouster of Galaxy president Chris Klein.

The plane was grounded just before takeoff, so the message was never delivered. Klein then got a further reprieve when the Galaxy beat Atlanta to move back into playoff position by the narrowest of margins with 13 games left in the MLS season, relieving some of the pressure from the MLS executive who occupies the league’s hottest seat.

The Galaxy are in the midst of the worst slump in the franchise’s storied history, one that has produced more losses than wins and a lone playoff berth since 2016. One win isn’t likely to placate the supporters who paid for the banner.

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“What you get judged on ultimately is the results of the first team,” Klein said. “I understand that. I take responsibility for that.”

What he hasn’t been able to do is change that.

Galaxy president Chris Klein attends a David Beckham statue unveiling.
Galaxy president Chris Klein attends a David Beckham statue unveiling at Dignity Health Sports Park in March 2019.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Since Bruce Arena, the team’s former coach and general manager, left six years ago to manage the U.S. national team, Klein has hired five coaches and three general managers who have combined for one playoff win. The only members of the front office and coaching staff that have remained through the tumult are Klein and Jovan Kirovski, the team’s technical director.

If changing the manager, the general manager and the players haven’t worked, the fans have decided it’s time to go after the head of the problem.

The Galaxy were once MLS’ model franchise. One of the league’s original 10 teams, they have won more games, more titles and signed more big-name players than any other club. It literally changed North American soccer along the way.

When it began negotiating with David Beckham in 2006, the league adopted new rules to allow the signing to happen. When it began chasing Giovani dos Santos eight years later, the league changed its salary-cap rules again.

Between 2009 and 2014, the Galaxy played in four MLS Cup finals, winning three and capturing consecutive Supporters’ Shields. They made the playoffs 18 times in their first 21 seasons. No other team has come close to that.

Galaxy players, including Landon Donovan, center, celebrate after winning the 2011 MLS Cup championship.
(Bret Hartman / Associated Press)

Yet the Galaxy have been back just once since.

The problem isn’t a question of resources. The Galaxy, who hate to be called thrifty, have one of the league’s wealthiest owners in billionaire AEG founder Philip Anschutz, and the league’s second-highest team payroll at $20.528 million, according to figures provided by the players’ union. But they’re spending more than 20% of that money — $4.65 million — on designated players Kevin Cabral and Douglas Costa, who have combined to miss almost as many minutes as they’ve played this season.

The team’s slide has taken place at the same time LAFC, the team’s noisy young neighbor 12 miles up the Harbor Freeway, has become the league’s new royalty. The team set an MLS record for points in its second season and is chasing its second Supporters’ Shield in four years this season — although it has yet to win the ultimate prize, an MLS Cup, of which the Galaxy have five.

The Galaxy know their chances of making the MLS playoffs are in peril, but their 2-0 victory over Atlanta United might help them get back on track.

This month general manager John Thorrington added Gareth Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, and Giorgio Chiellini, the former Italian national team captain, for about what Klein is paying Costa. That led Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner to openly question the signings, just as teams once questioned the Galaxy’s ability to fit multiple big-name players under the cap.

While LAFC has been breaking records the Galaxy have simply been broken.

When Greg Vanney, a member of the original Galaxy roster in 1996, returned as coach before last season, he said the team didn’t have a functioning sports-science department or a built-out scouting department.

“It was a recommendation-based scouting plan,” he said. “Agents would recommend players who were available and if they fit a position, they were brought in.”

While the Galaxy landed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristian Pavón and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández during that time, the team also went through the likes of Jack McInerney, Michael Ciani, João Pedro, Giancarlo González and Jorgen Skjelvik.

“That’s not how we work anymore,” Vanney said.

Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, left, chats with team owner Philip Anschutz and his wife, Nancy.
Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, left, chats with team owner Philip Anschutz and his wife, Nancy, before a match against Colorado on July 16.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Some of those players who left privately complained about a dysfunctional decision-making process in which it was hard to get a definitive answer on many player-personnel issues. That resulted in both missed opportunities and rosters that never fit together.

Vanney needed to address that too.

“Over the course of last year there needed to be some clarity as to what vision were we actually going on,” said Vanney, who has restructured the academy system. “There can’t be somebody who has other ideas trying to do other things.”

Which brings us back to the name on the banner that never got off the runway.

Mohammed Abdullateef, a soccer fan in Qatar, has amassed one of the largest collections of historic World Cup tickets in the world.

When Klein finished a 13-year playing career with the Galaxy in 2010, he was fast-tracked by former AEG president Tim Leiweke for a front-office role, going from academy director to team president in less than four years, winning an MLS title with Arena in his second season at the helm.

Under Dan Beckerman, Leiweke’s successor, Klein signed two contract extensions, the latest of which expires this winter. He said discussions have not begun on a new deal.

“Dan and I are on the same page,” Klein said. “We leave those things until the end of the year. Right now our task is to continue to work and to build and to support Greg.”

Galaxy start Javier “Chicharito” Hernández reacts during a loss to Austin FC in September.
(Michael Thomas / Associated Press)

Klein worked in the past to support coaches Curt Onalfo, Sigi Schmid and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, none of whom left the Galaxy with a winning record. Vanney, the winningest coach in MLS since 2015, is just a game over .500 at 22-21-12.

Yet Vanney understands the tradition, the passion and the pressure that comes with leading what once was the premier club in MLS. More importantly he has a clear plan to get the team back to the top.

If the front office allows him to implement that plan, it just might succeed.

“Right now we’re in a fight and we need to appreciate that fight,” Vanney said. “We’re not the championship club we will become. But we’re not there right this second.

“The formula for us needs to stick to our plan and find the best pieces to fit the way we want to play.”

If not, expect more banners to be ordered flown around Dignity Health Sports Park.


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