Three Things That Got Curt Onalfo Sacked And Why It’s Not All His Fault

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Editorial (July 29, 2017) – LA Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo was fired this past  Thursday. The club has replaced him with Sigi Schmid after a very disappointing first half of the season. Onalfo was certainly a flawed coach and change was needed to save the Galaxy’s season. But Onalfo wasn’t fully set up to succeed in the first place.

Three Things That Got Curt Onalfo Sacked And Why It’s Not All His Fault

Onalfo coached just 20 league games for the LA Galaxy. He had a record of 6-10-4, worse than every season but his 2010 stint with D.C. United. Make no mistake, Onalfo was not a good coach. A change was needed if the Galaxy were going to make a serious attempt at the playoffs. President Chris Klein has confirmed he was fired based on the results. Here’s where Onalfo messed up:

Poor Starts:

The LA Galaxy gave up the first goal in 13 of 20 games. They have only three clean sheats in league play. Onalfo’s side just hasn’t been able to start games well, especially at home. In post game media sessions, no one has been able to point out what exactly has caused this, but it has cost the Galaxy.

Onalfo wasn’t even able to correct for this in his game plans. Maybe he should have had the team play conservative in the opening 15 minutes? Ultimately, this characteristic cost his team points. It cost him his job.

Not Progressing The Young Players Enough:

Onalfo was brought on in part to help move the academy players along. He had spent time with the academy in the past. Prior to 2017, he coached every game in LA Galaxy II’s history. If anyone could set up Jack McBean, Jose Villarreal, Bradford Jamieson IV, etc. to succeed in MLS, it would have been Onalfo. The kids have had some good moments, but none of them have consistently contributed.

This might not be all Onalfo’s fault. Maybe these players aren’t MLS caliber and the Front Office has vastly misjudged and overvalued the academy kids. But Onalfo couldn’t get any of them to ball out. Not Nathan Smith or Bradley Diallo at right back. Not any of the guys who’ve played in MLS in the past. He needed to make one of them standout to validate the Galaxy’s off-season philosphy change and investment in him.

Defensive Collapses:

The Galaxy defense is ranked 19th out of 22 MLS teams with 37 goals against (1.85 per game). It’s not just that the Galaxy were leaking at the back, it was how. Poor mistakes by both goalkeepers have cost games. Individual errors from field players. Getting burned on counter attacks. The Galaxy have lacked a structure or shape defensively at times. Onalfo’s had mixed success at keeping Jelle Van Damme under control. He wasn’t able to get Jermaine Jones to work defensively at all.

There’s a couple things going on here. Some if it is the inability to control veteran players. In other cases, it’s poor tactical planning and/or poor communication of that plan to the players. At other times, it’s been inexperienced players making mistakes. Onalfo wasn’t able to get good performances out of Clement Diop or his right backs at times. This hurt the defense, which only made it harder on an attack that wasn’t constructed for success.

How Onalfo Was Not Set Up To Succeed:

Onalfo’s firing doesn’t fix everything for the LA Galaxy. He has a right to be upset with his dismissal given the circumstances he was put into.

Poor Roster Construction And Allocation Of Resources:

Onalfo was hired on December 13th of last year. At that press conference, President Chris Klein said “we are excited for Curt to further invest in the LA Galaxy as we continue to provide him with the support and resources necessary to win MLS Cups.” Ok, so the plan was to build a roster to compete. The expectations were to be a contender for MLS Cup

Klein and General Manager Peter Vagenas have made several mistakes that have taken the Galaxy to this point. While Onalfo may have been involved in these decisions, Klein and Vagenas have been the ones pulling the strings. This roster was not set up to contend for the Supporter’s Shield on player.

After the Galaxy knew that Robbie Rogers was going to be out for awhile, they traded A.J. DeLaGarza because he made too much money to not be a starter. This caused a Butterfly Effect disaster at right back. They then overpaid Jermaine Jones with a TAM level contract. With the offense struggling, the team picked up Jack McInerney. That took away minutes from some younger players. Assuming Onalfo didn’t have enough clout to say no to any of these decisions, this poor roster construction is all on Klein and Vagenas. This roster wasn’t built to contend, and Onalfo was fired in part to make him the scapegoat for the season.

Injuries And Absences:

The Galaxy are possibly the most injury riddled team of the 2017 season. They’ve had seven lock starters miss at least a month of the season with various injuries. At one point, they had almost half their roster unavailable for a game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Giovani dos Santos missed some crucial time with the Mexican National Team as well.

Onalfo released a statement yesterday, saying “being so depleted makes it very difficult to attain consistent results in a competitive league like this,” adding “I thought I had support of management.” 

If you’re missing half your starters for a month in MLS, the expectations would be tempered. That coach and the team should be given some slack for poor results. Onalfo clearly wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt here.

Unreasonable Expectations And Mixed Messages:

On a conference call this week, Klein was asked about what went wrong with the decision to hire Onalfo. “The object is for us is to still be us and to win. We’ve just explained more that we believe in our system here, we believe in our academy. The design was never to play a bunch of younger players,” Klein said.

This statement BLEW MY MIND. It completely contradicts the clear direction the club took with hiring Onalfo and the roster construction to go younger and trust the Academy players. You can’t decide to rebuild but also demand the team win every game. At best, Klein is sending mixed messages to again cast blame on Onalfo. At worst, he’s showing a The Emperor’s New Clothes lack of direction and planning for the club.

Don’t plan to go younger and then expect an LA Galaxy 1.5 team to win the treble. If that wasn’t the plan at all, explain the pre-season roster decisions. Onalfo lost games in part because he had to play a bunch of the kids and they’ve had growing pains. He had to do that because of all the injuries. Maybe Klein’s telling the truth and the plan wasn’t to give the kids so many minutes. Having 10 injuries is never the plan either and that isn’t Onalfo’s faul.

Onalfo was either given vastly unreasonable expectations or contradicting instructions. Or the Galaxy Front Office is lost. Your guess is as good as mine.