After a disastrous 2017 season that saw the LA Galaxy finish last in Major League Soccer, Sigi Schmid and his coaching staff are looking to get back on track with a massive offseason overhaul.
To date, the Galaxy have added 13 players to the roster who were not with the club when the season started last year. And in total, they’ve seen 15 players leave the club since the final game of the 2017 season.
Let’s take a look at the multitude of changes that have hit the Galaxy in the lead up to this weekend’s first regular season game, and also pay careful attention to areas that are still in danger of failing for the club.
The Galaxy started the process of fixing wrongs made in 2017 by jettisoning Head Coach Curt Onalfo in July.
Schmid took over for the embattled Onalfo and the team went into a tailspin. In fact, through the 14-games Schmid was in charge he held a record of just 2-8-4 for just 10 points out of a possible 42 – numbers that fell well beneath even Onalfo’s poor record at the time (5-5-4 for 19 points in the first 14 games).
After allowing a franchise-worst 67 goals, finishing in the lowest position in the league, and with the fewest points of any Galaxy team in history, changes were expected. And changes were made.
The biggest names to get the axe were Jermaine Jones (Option Declined), and Gyasi Zardes (Traded to Columbus for Ola Kamara). But the sheer number of other names was impressive, also.
Jack McInerney (Option Declined), Pele van Anholt (Contract Expired), Brian Rowe (Option Declined), Jose Villarreal (Option Declined), Rafael Garcia (Option Declined), Jack McBean (Option Declined), Raul Mendiola (Option Declined), Jon Kempin (Option Declined), Jaime Villarreal (Option Declined), Nathan Smith (Option Declined), Bradley Diallo (Option Declined), Clement Diop (Option Declined), and even Robbie Rogers (Retirement became official).
In total the Galaxy moved 15 players off the roster with most of them having their option declined. That culling included five Homegrown players – Jose and Jaime Villarreal, McBean, Mendiola, and Smith – and an end to the brief “youth movement” that was supposed to carry the club into the next phase of MLS.
Schmid and his team backfilled the roster with a wide range of domestic and International veterans. Jorgen Skjelvic was the first to be brought into the team to give the center-back position some bite. He would join mid-season replacement, Michael Ciani, who had a rough six games to close out the 2017 season.
Rolf Feltscher was the next addition as the Swiss-Venezuelan looked to shore up the right-back role in place of the retired Rogers and the injured Van Anholt.
David Bingham – former San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper – was next on the list as Schmid joined forces with former assistant coach Dominic Kinnear to persuade the ‘Quakes goalkeeper into the starting position for the Galaxy. Bingham was then backed up by the United Soccer League’s (USL) Brian Sylvestre. These two players – and eventually LA Galaxy II’s Justin Vom Steeg – would see a complete overhaul of the position. Not a single goalkeeper remains on the club from last year’s team.
Servando Carrasco was picked up in the Re-Entry Draft to provide depth behind Perry Kitchen who was encouraged to leave Randers FC in Denmark to make his return to Major League Soccer. Together, the two defensive midfielders are the only dedicated defensive midfielders on the team. With Jones – option declined – being the only guy to play that position well in the last 12 months. And at quite a cost to the locker room.
Emrah Klimenta joined from USL’s Sacramento Republic to back-up a bunch of defensive positions, but mostly the right-back role.
But the biggest piece of the offseason was landing Columbus’ Ola Kamara in a trade for Gyasi Zardes. Kamara is a proven goal-scorer.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
For all the weak spots on the 2017 roster – no right backs, a lack of competent strikers, no dedicated defensive midfielders, no starting caliber goalkeepers – the 2018 roster is more of a complete build.
The midfield position is the strongest with 10 players able to slot into multiple areas. Sebastian Lletget, injured for most of last year with a broken foot, will return as the Galaxy’s most flexible weapon. Able to play on the right, left, or middle of the midfield, he’s a versatile playmaker that will start this season coming off the bench as he gets his legs back underneath him. The speedy Emmanuel Boateng will start at the left midfield position but will probably transfer to the bench once Lletget can take the starting minutes.
Perry Kitchen has impressed in preseason and seems to enjoy his role as a disrupter in the center of midfield. And Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan dos Santos seem up to the task of repeating their solid play from the previous year.
The offense will be led by Kamara and his pairing with Giovani dos Santos will be interesting to see develop. Already, the two have had some success in linking play between them to create opportunities, but the final product isn’t there yet.
But Kamara heads a group of strikers that is precariously thin. Schmid acknowledged as much when he said it was a position they were still looking to strengthen. Pontius can certainly slot in for Kamara if needed, and Ari Lassiter is still very much a work in progress. And the youngest success from last year, Bradford Jamieson IV, has been sidelined through much of the preseason with a concussion. Leaving his involvement in the club a question mark.
Giovani dos Santos will also figure heavily into the success of this 2018 team. A lackluster and disappearing performance in 2017 has really put the Mexican National Team star in the crosshairs of Galaxy fans.
The highest paid player on the club ($5.5 million), Giovani dos Santos needs a standout performance that he has yet to show in a Galaxy uniform. And while 2016’s numbers were impressive when standing alone, living through that season, his impact was not felt across most games. His time to standup and lead by taking over games is now.
Defensively, Feltscher has proven he deserves the starting spot, and his backup, Klimenta didn’t get a ton of time in the lead up to the start of the season. But Cordell Cato, who has been trialing with the club, may fit the bill at both a backup and a possible starter. That would improve the Galaxy’s depth at the position and create a battle for the starting spot.
Center-back has plenty of bodies to play but lacks true quality. Skjelvic was brought in to start, and he will. But who he’ll be paired with is anyone’s guess. Ciani and Daniel Steres are battling for that spot right now with neither rising above the other to claim the spot for sure. But Ciani seems to be leading the race and is probably the starter for the early part of the season. Steres, Dave Romney, and Klimenta can all play in those center-back spots, but it’s the young draft pick, Hilliard-Arce, who’s really drawing the attention.
He hasn’t seemed out of place on the field and has played his minutes wisely. Too soon to start him at the beginning of the season, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him as a key part of the defense by years end.
Ashley Cole – wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in his career – will head up the left side of defense for the Galaxy. But at 37-years old, you won’t be able to use him for 34-games. Romney will be his primary backup unless Schmid wants to slot Skjelvic to the LB position as well. Maybe that’s a solution searching for a problem, though.
Finally, the Galaxy look to back up Bingham with Sylvestre. But the drop there is big at the moment. And Vom Steeg may get a chance to challenge for the number two position. This will quickly become a position of worry if Bingham picks up an injury or fails to perform as expected.
The strength of this team is clearly the midfield. But the Galaxy have a lack of bodies at the striker position, and they have a lack of quality on the right side of the defense. If either of those areas creates problems, the Galaxy could be opened up and disarmed rather easily.
But in totality, this 2018 roster is significantly more talented, more balanced, and should be much more competitive.
PROJECTED FIRST WEEK LINEUP:
CURRENT LA GALAXY ROSTER