Turns out the coach might have been the problem after all.
That’s the simplistic conclusion one could draw from the Galaxy’s 2-1 win Sunday over Real Salt Lake in their first game under interim manager Dominic Kinnear.
Yet it’s clear the team’s problems are far too pervasive for one person — or one game — to fix.
Actually it was Kinnear’s seventh game as the Galaxy’s interim coach since he’s done this before, nearly taking the team to the playoffs two years ago. The Galaxy bypassed him for the permanent job then and gave it to Guillermo Barros Schelotto, only to fire him last week and promote Kinnear.
The Galaxy won just one of Schelotto’s final 10 matches. Kinnear matched that in this first game, lifting the Galaxy out of the Western Conference cellar for the first time in a month. That may be the best the team can hope for though; with two games left in the season it has only a slight mathematical chance of making the playoffs.
“I guess the change was necessary. I understand what happened,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said of Schelotto’s firing. “I think Dom took the group really well. There’s hope. There’s two games left. If we win all three, if things go our way, we could be in. As a player you just want that little bit of hope.”
“Today [Dom] just simplified it. It was very clear what we had to do as a group. Dom stepped in very well.”
Kinnear, 53, whose 170th win tied him with LAFC’s Bob Bradley for third on the all-time MLS list, hasn’t said whether he’s interested in the job on a permanent basis and the Galaxy (6-11-3) haven’t said whether he’ll be considered. But working without a coaching staff Sunday, he gave a pretty good audition, switching to a high press and inspiring the kind of grit, energy and hustle the Galaxy so often failed to muster for their former coach.
The goals came from Giancarlo González, who headed in a long, bending free kick from Lletget early in the first half, and Cristian Pavón, who made a brilliant solo run from the midfield stripe into the penalty area before pushing the ball in for his 10th goal of the season in the 65th minute.
Real Salt Lake (5-9-7) got its only score on its only shot on goal, a Douglas Martínez header in the 78th minute. The other bad news on the night for the Galaxy was captain Jonathan dos Santos’ coming off the field after an hour and hobbling slowly to the locker room.
Highlights from the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Sunday.
Kinnear said he had no information on the injury to Dos Santos, who missed three games earlier this season following hernia surgery.
“The victory is the most important thing,” said the coach, who received a text message of congratulations from Bradley after the game. “When you come to the stadium you want to walk out with three points. I think the ambition tonight was good.”
“First 45 [minutes] I give a complete thumbs up for everything we spoke about,” he added. “And for the second 45 I give a thumbs up for heart.”
Yet given the Galaxy’s deep dysfunction, one win is a bit like spitting into a forest fire. It’s nice, but it’s not going to have much impact.
The team has lost more games (56) and conceded more goals (232) in the last four seasons than in any four-year stretch in franchise history, making the playoffs just once. Correcting that will require replacing more than just the coach, something the Galaxy have tried four times in the last four seasons. They’ve also used three general managers and 66 players.
The only thing they haven’t changed are the results. So now it might be time to look a little higher up the food chain.
President Chris Klein, technical director Jovan Kirovski and Dan Beckerman, the president and chief executive officer of the Galaxy’s parent company AEG, have been the main constants during the team’s collapse and they’ve had their successes, the most notable being Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Kirovski lured him to MLS, Beckerman gave him the richest contract in league history and he rewarded them with 52 goals in two seasons.
But the failures — the signings of Gio dos Santos, Michael Ciani, Aleksandar Katai, Jorgen Skjelvik, Jermaine Jones and João Pedro and the trade of Gyasi Zardes — have been far more telling.
General manager Dennis te Kloese appears to have a plan for restoring that winning culture and has already begun rebuilding a player-development system that was allowed to wither. But who he chooses as the next coach could be the team’s most important hire since Bruce Arena, who in 2008 took over a team in its third straight losing season and coached it to four MLS Cup finals in six seasons.
That won’t be the only big decision Te Kloese and whoever remains in the front office will have to make. They’ll also have to decide how to handle Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the disgruntled $6-million striker who was benched by Schelotto and watched Sunday’s game from the stands, reportedly sidelined by a hamstring injury. Then there’s Pavón, the team leader in goals and assists whose loan expires on New Year’s Eve. He may prove too expensive, becoming the third key loan — after Favio Álvarez and Uriel Antuna — Te Kloese has been unable to keep in two seasons.
On the other end of the field the Galaxy have used three keepers and 10 defenders the last two seasons and given up 101 goals.
So on second thought, maybe the coach wasn’t the problem. Why, then, would anyone think changing coaches alone would be the solution?