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Chris Klein is out of bullets

The Galaxy president has struggled to lead the club in the post Bruce Arena era

Los Angeles Galaxy Introduce Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

When Bruce Arena hastily departed the LA Galaxy to take over the USA men’s program in November of 2016, LA Galaxy president Chris Klein became the de facto face of the organization.

A major test lay ahead for the executive and former player tasked with prolonging the Galaxy’s legacy as an elite MLS club. With LA on the verge of missing the playoffs for the second year running, it’s a test the Galaxy president has not passed.

The proof is in the pudding. The 2017 season was a disaster as several fundamental deficiencies of the organization were exposed.

When Curt Onalfo was promoted the Los Dos manager was expected to integrate youth into the first team, but the plan was executed poorly. The organization overestimated the talent at their disposal, resulting in a number of unproven players thrust into the mix. The likes of Jack McBean, Jose Villarreal, Raul Mendiola have rightly earned their stripes as Galaxy cult heroes but were ineffective at the MLS level.

Making things worse, the organization struck out in the transfer market. Giving Jermaine Jones a $600,000 contract was a catastrophic blunder when it was well-documented the 35-year old had only played a fraction of the past three MLS seasons with diminishing returns. Compounded by the decision to trade reliable defender and fan favorite/family member A.J. DeLaGarza to save a few bucks, the U.S. international’s failure to produce was as costly as it was predictable.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles Galaxy
A frustrated Jermaine Jones
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LA paid seven figures to buy João Pedro from Vitoria Guimaraes and the highly touted prospect is currently on loan in Greece after an unremarkable spell. When an out of contract Michael Ciani demanded an 18-month deal the organization caved, handing the Ligue 1 veteran a $600,000 deal of his own that will go down as one of the worst transactions in Galaxy history.

How was Ciani signed in the first place? As LA Times reporter Kevin Baxter recalled on a recent Corner of the Galaxy podcast, at one point Sigi inquired about available center backs following Jelle Van Damme’s sudden departure and the organization was not equipped to accommodate the request, which is like asking the hotel concierge at a five star hotel for the Wi-Fi password and hearing “What WiFi”?

Romain Alessandrini was a lone bright spot, but even with the Marseille winger’s 13 goals and 12 assists the Galaxy finished dead last with just three wins at the StubHub Center all year.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes
Curt Onalfo and Dom Kinnear
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Klein quietly inked a five-year extension in the winter that was never formally announced by the club. Peter Vagenas was stripped of his GM title but maintained his No. 2 role as Vice President of Soccer Operations.

A spectator at every Galaxy home game, Sigi Schmid was brought in following Curt Onalfo’s dismissal after just 20 games. Unable to rescue a lost cause, 2018 would be the time for the man who delivered MLS Cup glory to right the ship.

Having balked at the team’s shortcomings Sigi went to work, waiving half the roster including five Homegrown players while strengthening the scouting and sports science departments.

There were growing pains. A bid to improve the players’ fitness resulted in major hamstring injuries to all three Designated Players. Building a scouting department doesn’t happen overnight, and LA’s offseason signings were a mixed bag. Exchanging Ola Kamara for Gyasi Zardes was a stroke of genius, while the jury is still out on Jorgen Skjelvic until the Norwegian international is paired with a suitable center back.

Schmid had his ups and downs as a manager. With everyone healthy and available the Galaxy were capable of scoring at will, but more often than not the LA attack was predictable and less than the sum of its parts. Relying on veteran center backs at the expense of developing 2018 No. 2 SuperDraft pick Tomas Hilliard-Arce was a misstep, and the defense has given up 59 goals in 29 games. (Over two a game!)

Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have come under considerable scrutiny for their lack of production. Yes this was a World Cup year, and the likes of Robbie Keane David Beckham and Landon Donovan have also been guilty of skipping town for international duty. But all three came around full circle and produced for their club. Gio specifically has been abysmal with just three goals and two assists in 809 minutes.

Why has the older dos Santos regressed so badly? There are signs the El Tri regular isn’t happy. A less vocal presence on social media these days, Gio had taken to skipping the player tunnel after games. There were credible rumors the elder dos Santos was offered to two Liga MX clubs, rumors that would contradict Klein’s commitment to the brothers during halftime of a match that had Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio in attendance.

By locking up Gio to a five-year deal without a backup plan, it’s tough to believe the Galaxy’s predicament isn’t one of the organization’s own making. Additionally, signing Jona has given the tandem power they have arguably leveraged to their advantage. Fans and pundits alike have pondered at times if the dos Santos brothers are the ones calling the shots, deciding for themselves when they want to play.

In the MLS 3.0 era, you can’t mostly waste two of your three Designated Player spots and expect to succeed. Even with Zlatan’s arrival, a number of bad decisions ultimately crippled the Galaxy’s ability to compete this year.

Despite Sigi’s limitations as a manger, there’s only so much Schmid could have done with the hand he was dealt. As Sigi knew and reiterated often, rebuilding a club in one offseason is not a job, but just one step of a project.

On Sept. 10th Schmid and the Galaxy parted ways. However questions have continue to linger as the matter has since devolved into a tale of conflicting accounts. Did Sigi step down on his own? Did Sigi have full control of player personnel? Depends on who you ask.

Worryingly for Galaxy fans, the clear dysfunction which has influenced the results on the field has crept into other parts of the organization.

You could be forgiven for believing the LA Galaxy academy system has problems, but experts regard the youth academy as one of the best in the country. The system is loaded with talent: 16-year old Efrain Alvarez is the real deal and the likes of Ulysses Llanez and Alex Mendez aren’t far behind.

The issue is how that talent is cultivated. Promising youngsters need first-team minutes. Without a philosophy, an ethos, any kind of system in place to give up and coming talent playing time and progress their development, what’s the point of pouring millions into an academy?

The Galaxy are behind the curve. Should the US qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, there’s an excellent chance the starting lineup will feature two Red Bull academy products in Tyler Adams and Matt Miazga. Vancouver wunderkid Alphonso Davies was sold to Bayern Munich for a number that could reach $20 million.

In comparison the Galaxy have yet to develop a single Homegrown Player of real quality, a stunning setback given LA’s background as a youth soccer hotbed, the money spent and the resources available.

Bradford Jamieson’s minutes through five seasons paint a bleak picture

In the MLS 3.0 era, you can’t neglect to build an academy-USL-MLS pipeline and expect to succeed.

It goes without saying the fans are frustrated. With LAFC pulling out all the stops to establish themselves as the top soccer team in Los Angeles, a growing discontent has simmered among Galaxy die-hards who perceive the organization has not done enough to battle their new rival on and off the field.

This discontent came to a head in August during the final matchup between the two clubs. Upon entering the StubHub Center, Galaxy fans discovered thousands of black and gold clad LAFC supporters jam packed into the northwest corner of the stadium with the stadium roof amplifying their chants. This wasn’t the club’s intention who distributed just 100 tickets, but like any Bond villain will tell you it’s not the plan that counts but the execution.

As the below tweet illustrates, a similar scenario had unfolded during the first El Trafico. Though fans at the time were upset officials had inadvertently gifted their crosstown foes an absurdly large away section, the common sense assumption was the glitch would be fixed in time for the final matchup. You don’t need to possess an Ace Rothstein attention to detail to know handing your crosstown rival front-row tickets is just bad. Forgot the optics, it’s a sporting advantage.

Galaxy supporters were furious. Sigi himself was irked enough to break party lines and express his own displeasure during the post game press conference.

“It’s always good. I’ve got to be honest, I was a little surprised that their supporters were able to sit right there. I know in other places where I’ve coached usually the visiting supporters are as far away from the field as possible. So maybe that’s something we’ve got to look at. - Sigi Schmid on the atmosphere

The whole affair was an embarrassing ordeal that should never have occurred, justifying the fan’s concerns that someone somewhere was asleep at the wheel.

22 months after Bruce Arena’s departure, the Galaxy are in crisis. Chris Klein has hired and fired two managers, the team is on track to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year and the organization is ripe for criticism.

We would be remiss to put LA’s struggles entirely on the Galaxy president. Bruce is one of the finest coaches in league history and a brilliant man-manager who also thrived in the GM role for the club. There was always going to be a transition period after he left.

That being said, Klein is the face of the organization, and the past two years are a reflection of his leadership. The Galaxy president will probably not be allowed to put down another head coach during his tenure.

Whether the organization elects to pursue someone like Gregg Berhalter and grant the Columbus Crew manager coaching and GM duties, or hand the reigns to an international candidate like Guillermo Barros Schelotto and pair them with an experienced general manager, the Galaxy have got to get it right this time.

The clock is ticking.

An update

After winning three of their last four to get back into the playoff race, on the final day with LA needing just a win to advance the Galaxy gave up three second-half goals at home in a monumental collapse to the Houston Dynamo.

Alex Mendes has moved on to the Bundesliga after rejecting a new deal, with Uly Llanez very likely to follow suit. Los Dos manager Mike Munoz and others have promised 16-year old Efrain Alvarez will be integrated into the first team next year, but who knows how that will pan out.

Bradford Jamieson IV’s 271 minutes in 2018 was the entirety of LA’s Homegrown production and ultimately the fruit of the Galaxy academy’s labor and the millions spent.

There has been little word on the coaching search. LA’s top targets in Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gregg Berhalter are favored to land jobs with the U.S. Men’s National Team and Atlanta United. For the time being it appears former Timbers manager Caleb Porter, a college roommate of Chris Klein’s, could land the position.

We’ve been told a majority of the squad is locked down for next season, but the fate of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ashley Cole and the dos Santos brothers remains unclear.

What is the future of this club?