He led the fledgling team in appearances in 1996, helped it to three MLS Cup finals and lifted the first three trophies the club won — a Supporters’ Shield, a CONCACAF Champions’ Cup and a U.S. Open Cup. So when the Galaxy, mired in a franchise-worst-tying six-year title drought, approached Vanney last month and asked him to come home and rebuild that legacy, no one had to explain to him what that meant.
“The Galaxy is the most important club in MLS, and it’s our job to get this club back to where people expect it to be,” said Vanney, who will be introduced Wednesday via videoconference as the club’s 12th manager in 25 years. “And I love that challenge. I love this opportunity to put those pieces back together in the right way.”
It won’t be Vanney’s first rebuilding project: He took over a Toronto FC team in 2014 that had never posted a winning record and in his third full season guided it to the only treble — a league title, a domestic championship and a Supporters’ Shield — in MLS history.
Rebuilding the Galaxy might take longer. The team lost 57 games over the last four seasons and hasn’t gotten past the playoff quarterfinals since 2014. It’s been a precipitous fall for a franchise that had long set the standard against which other MLS clubs measured themselves.
“Moving forward, what’s important for us is that we have a vision that is more than just one year,” said Vanney, who is also expected to direct much of the Galaxy’s scouting. “That we’re looking three, four years down the road and that we’re building with stability and continuity. That we’re putting a foundation under the team.”
That’s been lacking following the departure of Bruce Arena as coach and general manager in 2016. Since then, the Galaxy have gone through 66 players, three general managers and four coaches. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the only coach to make it through a full season in that time, was fired in October with his dispirited team in the Western Conference cellar.
General manager Dennis te Kloese, whose self-described three-year rebuilding plan with Schelotto lasted less than two seasons, doesn’t believe he needs to start over with Vanney.
“He’s somebody that we can rely on to continue building what we started,” he said. “Greg brings something special, obviously, with what he’s shown in Toronto and what he’s been able to achieve there. That made him a great guy for us to be able to rely upon.”
The league has not announced its 2021 schedule, leaving the team uncertain how long it will have to fill out a roster that stands at 17 players. And key questions remain unanswered at goalkeeper, where the Galaxy have no one with MLS experience, and on offense, where Te Kloese continues to negotiate with Argentina’s Boca Juniors over a deal for Cristian Pavón.
A defender in his playing days, Vanney, 46, starred for Sigi Schmid at UCLA before joining the Galaxy for the inaugural MLS season in 1996. He appeared in 193 regular-season games — sixth on the all-time list — in two stints with the team (1996-2001 and 2008). He also played with D.C. United, the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, in France with Bastia, and with the U.S. national team in a 13-year career that ended in 2008 when he played his final game alongside Chris Klein, the Galaxy’s current president.
He quickly moved into coaching, first as director of Real Salt Lake’s academy, then as an assistant for two seasons under Robin Fraser at Chivas USA before starting 2014 as Toronto’s assistant general manager and academy director. When manager Ryan Nelsen was fired with 10 games left in the season, Vanney stepped in.
He would be on the Toronto sideline for 240 more games, leading the team to 112 wins, five playoff appearances and a CONCACAF Champions League final. Only Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes and Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin have coached more games with their current teams.
And Vanney could have stayed longer. He was in contract talks with Toronto in late October when Schelotto was sacked, opening the way for a return to where his professional career started.
“The issue for me was not about money or terms or anything like that,” he said of Toronto. “It was really just a question of what did I feel I could continue to accomplish there?
“I’ve always thought it would be great to one day coach the Galaxy. But for me the decision was about: Did I see a next step in Toronto?”
Vanney, who said Monday was his first day in his new office at Dignity Health Sports Park, isn’t coming back alone. Dan Calichman — who played beside Fraser and Vanney on that first Galaxy back line, then spent parts of seven seasons as an assistant in Toronto — will join the staff in Carson, as will Jim Liston, Toronto’s director of sports science and a former strength and conditioning coach with the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
Vanney said contracts for the rest of his coaches have yet to be finalized. Whether Dominic Kinnear, a Galaxy assistant for three seasons and an interim manager at the end of two of them, will have a place on that staff has not been determined.