It’s “What if?” week at SB Nation, and our question to kick things off is a tasty one for the LA Galaxy: What if the LA Galaxy had won the 1996 MLS Cup?
The Galaxy came agonizingly close to winning the first-ever league title, taking a 2-0 lead in the second half before a collapse in a monsoon at Gillette Stadium led to a 3-2 loss on a golden goal by D.C. United.
How would things have been different if LA won that first title? They would have won the first MLS Cup.
Yeah, obviously. But it’s worth hammering this point home a bit.
The Galaxy were ambitious from the beginning and have been ambitious pretty much their entire history. Star players, sunshine, Hollywood, trophies...sounds pretty amazing.
But they didn’t get those bragging rights at the first opportunity, and I think that fueled their motivation to push for the first triumph. It’s possible they could have usurped D.C. United as the first dynasty in MLS — United won three of the first four MLS Cups — but would that have pushed LA to keep expanding the boundaries of MLS in subsequent decades?
To follow the thread through, consider if LA had won the first MLS Cup and maybe another one or two in the first years of the league, would they have rested on their laurels a bit? Not in the competitive aspect, but one of the flaws for D.C. down the line was that they didn’t stay agile enough to maintain their top dog status in MLS. They dominated the early years and other than their last MLS Cup in 2004 and a few MLS Cups and Supporters’ Shields, they’ve had a total yo-yo of an existence this century. Some years are good, some are very bad! It’s the circle of life.
In contrast, for the Galaxy, not fully succeeding at the first opportunity kept them hungry and able to adapt to the times, in many cases expanding the limits of what can be done with rosters and other professionalization aspects that raised the level for similarly ambitious teams in MLS, too. They’ve been a contender more often than not in their history, and they’ve won more MLS Cups than any other team to this point. They’ve even outdone D.C. United by besting their four titles with five.
I don’t think it’s easy enough to say that if the outcome was reversed the teams would have flipped realities. It’s possible the Galaxy could have become a juggernaut and became such a dynasty that the league would implement other wacky rules to try and slow them down, allow the rest of the league to catch up. But I think it’s fairly likely the overwhelming thirst for the first MLS Cup, that wasn’t quenched until 2002, after losing three MLS Cup finals to get to that point, would not have been as strong. The trial by fire and determination to win didn’t pay off in the early years, but it set the scene for eventual triumph and then another era of triumph all over again for the club.
Another way losing the 1996 MLS Cup final proved consequential: I bet they wouldn’t have fired head coach Lothar Osiander the following year during the season, he would have been given more time. Would that have delayed or avoided the eventual arrival of Sigi Schmid to put the Galaxy on the winning path? Another great “What if?”
Obviously things would be different in history had the Galaxy won that first MLS Cup. How would it have been different? We can only speculate. But I think the hunger drove the Galaxy and in the long run, pushed them forward and brought the whole league along with them, too.
What do you think? How do you think things would play out if the Galaxy won the 1996 MLS Cup? Let’s chat in the comments below.