Greg Vanney understands the legacy he was a part of, but he’s choosing to look to the future instead of the past to rebuild it all.
CARSON, Calif. — Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote you can’t go home again, but try telling that to Greg Vanney.
The former UCLA standout and a member of the original LA Galaxy team in 1996 returned to the five-time MLS Cup champions this week as the 12th head coach in franchise history. Vanney most recently was with FC Toronto, where he coached from 2014-2020 and led the Canadian side to an MLS Cup in 2017 — Toronto never had a winning record prior to his arrival — but he left the team early last December to pursue other opportunities.
One materialized with the Galaxy, who had fired head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto in late October and then named assistant coach Dominic Kinnear to finish the season on an interim basis.
Vanney’s return, naturally, prompted a number of memories for the 46-year-0ld.
“In the old days when I was part of the Galaxy,” he told reporters Wednesday in a video conference call, “the first time we trained at the parking lot outside of the Rose Bowl, where the grass is. There was glass, and we would walk around as a team and pick up the glass and put it in the garbage. There were manhole covers on the field. We trained on a baseball field outside the Rose Bowl, which didn’t even give us the full dimensions of a field. Somehow we managed to get to three championships in circumstances like that.
“It’s really about the mentality, the work that you do and being purposeful every day and how you approach things, not looking for problems but finding solutions, and being willing to go the extra mile. Having that mentality is what it means to me to be a part of the Galaxy.”
Galaxy president Chris Klein said he was confident Vanney was the right choice and said this hiring “feels different” and “this is a coach that has the Galaxy in his blood.” General Manager Dennis te Kloese said there was no question what set Vanney apart from other candidates for the position.
“Like everybody else, seeing the work that he has done not only on the field but off the field in Toronto speaks for itself,” he said. “I think one of the things is he’s a winning coach. He’s proven. He knows the culture in MLS and in the Galaxy. I think he has a very clear idea on how he wants to do things, how he wants to go about his business.
“He’s very detailed and what I liked in the end, and it’s not the highest priority. He’s always been open to playing younger players and developing players alongside being a winning and competing team. Those combinations are sometimes difficult for coaches, but in this case, it’s something we would like to take advantage of.”
Vanney inherits a team that has lost 57 games in the last four seasons and has gone through three general managers (Pete Vagenas, Sigi Schmid, and te Kloese) and four head coaches (Curt Onalfo, Schmid, Schelotto, and Kinnear, the latter twice on an interim basis) since Bruce Arena left in 2016 to coach the U.S. men’s national team.
The Galaxy also are coming off a 2020 season in which they finished 10th in the Western Conference, allowed 46 goals — second-most in MLS behind only San Jose — and were plagued by inconsistent and often uninspired play highlighted by the disastrous debut of striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who had only two goals in 17 appearances.
Vanney still called Hernandez a “world-class goal scorer” despite the Mexican international’s paltry output.
“His finishing ability is off the charts,” Vanney said. “For us, what’s important is to help him and create chances. A forward like that reads off what’s going on around him in order to organize the space he needs to finish in. He’s not a guy that’s going to dribble past five guys and score a goal.
“We need to make sure the structure of what we’re doing creates the type of chances and the things he does. The way we want to attack and play the game suits a player like him really well, and I think he has every opportunity to be very successful this year.”
Vanney said he embraces the task that lies ahead.
“For me,” he said, “it’s a club that is used to being on top and has built a legacy that has defined our league. For me, the build is getting back there … how can the Galaxy be a standard-bearer for our league and push the level of all things?
“When I look at an opportunity on a club, I don’t just think about the first team. The entire project has to fit together. All these different dots that are out there, and how we become most efficient to be the best club that we can, that’s the project that I love to be a part of.”