The five trophies are hard to miss, by the placement and number.
Walk into the StubHub Center through the players ‘ entrance, past the tunnel that leads on the field, they are to your left. The two comet-like statuettes to commemorate the titles of Major League Soccer’s early years, and the three cups to complete the quintet to talk to the Galaxy of THE remaining power.
If such an ephemeral thing, because success can happen to set a club of philosophy, the trophy case represents what the Galaxy have been, and what they have strived in every season since.
Where it gets more complicated, it is down in the hallway, where the nameplates of the home locker room have been in heavy rotation for the past 24 months or so.
It’s not as if Los Angeles is as far away from its glory years. The Galaxy won a record fifth title in the MLS Cup in 2014, when they sent Landon Donovan in his first retirement on a high and solidified coach Bruce Arena’s reign as one of the most successful spells in the history of the league. They have qualified for the playoffs of the season, dating back to 2008.
Now, the question – perhaps even more so since the time when David Beckham signed in 2007 – is where the club goes from here.
Steven Gerrard has been a much better tourist than a player of THE
Donovan, in spite of a brief return last fall, is now gone, he says for good. Arena has left, too, to take charge of the national team of the usa, following Jürgen Klinsmann’s dismissal. Robbie Keane, perhaps the most successful import in the history of the league, has seen his contact due to expire at the end of last season, and Steven Gerrard parted, after a most unhappy year-and-a-half spell.
For those who are still around, hope has not changed, even if the more high-profile names have. The emphasis is now placed on the construction of the interior, relying on a responsible local talent base and the academy system, which has long been recognised as one of MLS’s best. The Galaxy were the first team of the league, the beginnings of a home of their own minor league squad, and the philosophy of the construction of the interior is spread throughout the organization.
Curt Onalfo, the Arena’s longtime assistant, is now in charge, and it is not to lower the bar. “We’re going to continue to be who we are, and this is a team that has success and wins games and positions himself, we hope, by the end of the year, a championship team,” said the Guardian this week.
“The only difference is that, in the past, we have often used players in their mid-30s to come on to the bench. It is different now. We use the players who are more young people in these roles. This is really the only difference. You will continue to see a team that’s hungry and plays good football.”
It’s not as if Onalfo is to choose from a simple closet.
The mexico international Giovani Dos Santos can’t post the raw numbers to back up the fanfare that greeted his arrival from la Liga, Villarreal in 2015, but on his day, the 27-year-old is as gifted as any player in Concacaf. Belgian Centre-back Jelle van Damme was a finalist for the league’s defender of the year in his first season after joining Standard Liege.
Perhaps no player encapsulates the displacement of THE accent as Romain Alessandrini, a 27-year-old French winger, who signed from Marseille in January for a designated player slot that had previously been the domain of the more famous (and more) European stars.
Onalfo, for its part, bristles at the idea that the Galaxy is radically breaking from the formula that has allowed him such success in the past. “Focus on Alessandrini. Focus on Dos Santos. Focus on Van Damme. Focus on [Ashley] Cole,” Onalfo said. “We have stars. [The media] want to spend all your time to return to the topic of the depth of our team.
“It is an intelligently – because in the end, the guys that have been developed in our system, they don’t cost as much as at the beginning. This is what every club in the world. It’s your guys’ job, to concentrate on this kind of things. All I’m focused on is getting better every day.”
A rash of early-season injuries have complicated the task. Gyasi Zardes, who for a time was considered an herb of the us national team regular, broke his foot last August and has recently been sidelined with a knee injury. Dos Santos suffered an injury to his right leg in an early game of the season against Portland, and Cole has been dealing with a lingering calf issue.
A new blow came during this international break, when midfielder Sebastian Lletget has suffered a foot injury shortly after scoring for the usa against Honduras, which will make him miss between four and six months.
Taken together, the absence of using the excuse Los Angeles ‘ consecutive home losses to the opening of the new campaign, and give more legitimacy to the 2-1 victory of Real Salt Lake, which preceded the bye weekend. “I think we played very well,” Onalfo said. “We went to two of the three games, at least in theory, without five starting. Which means that we used the depth of our team.”
While the player turnover has been significant, the coaching change was not as revolutionary as one might think. Onalfo has known Arena since he was 17 years old, when the veteran coach was recruited to play at the University of Virginia. Onalfo was an assistant during the Arena’s first reign USA from 2002 to 2006, and he worked under him as with the Galaxy since 2011.
“Bruce has his own way,” Onalfo said. “It is great to get the maximum out of people. I’ve learned a ton from him. I’ve learned that aspect. There are countless things that I’d like to say that it helps me. It is the most influential person in my coaching career, that’s for sure.”
At least one coach on his staff knows the value of fresh blood and perspectives. Ante Razov was a Sounders assistant last season, when Seattle fired long-time boss Sigi Schmid in July, before the close of the season on a 8-2-4 clip and win their first MLS Cup under new coach Brian Schmetzer.
“I think people see the Galaxy as being a little to the downside,” Razov said. “I think it is just the opposite. I think make refreshing things and is not too different from Seattle. I think that the resources that the club and the people here in place, it all goes really, really well for us.”
For the players with the tendency to see the positive side, the new plan offers a blank slate. Rafael Garcia has been with the Galaxy since 2012, which may not seem like much, but in this locker room makes the 28-year-old midfielder, a former statesman.
Big names came and went, the potential successors increased and decreased, but when the series rolls around, the Galaxy remained. “The Galaxy is known to have won Cups,” Garcia said. “There is a reason for which we have the most in the league. Nothing changes. The personnel may change, but the mentality and the desire to succeed remains the same.”