EDITORIAL – The 2020 LA Galaxy season is over. For the third time in four years, they missed the playoffs. With a vacant head coaching position and some dead-weight contracts, the club again find themselves ending the season early for their standards and with more questions than answers.
2020 LA Galaxy Season Review: Lost Identity
The 2020 MLS season was obviously very segmented. The Galaxy took just one point from their two “regular” season games. They opened with a 1-1 draw at Houston and lost their home opener to Vancouver 1-0.
The club crashed out of the MLS is Back tournament, with injuries to captain Jonathan dos Santos and big money addition Javier Chicharito Hernandez. This was highlighted by a 6-2 thumping from LAFC.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto simplified things for the team going into the regular season restart. They defended with numbers and broke on the counter. MVP candidate (at the time) Cristian Pavon led the attack and the team was clinician. They won their first four games post MiB.
The team then lost 8 of their next 10 matches. The defense regressed and leaked goals on simple mistakes. Chicharito got healthy but was where offense went to die. Most of the midfield and attack regressed outside of Pavon. Schelotto was fired after a 5-2 loss at Portland and the team was eliminated from the playoffs the next week.
Pavon and it’s not even close. He lead the team in goals and assists with 10 and 7, respectively. The next closest was Sebastian Lletget (6 g, 4 a), who’s stats were amplified by the partnership with Pavon. The Argentine was the lynchpin for the attack all year long, and at times the attack in its entirety.
What went wrong in 2020:
Pretty much everything. Chicharito could end up being a Giovanni dos Santos level bust, with his 2 goals off a reported $10 million transfer fee and nearly $6 million salary. Schelotto kept using Zlatan Ball tactics, in having the team lump crosses into the box for a poacher forward who is not a great solo striker.
The defense again was a liability with Giancarlo Gonzalez and Rolf Feltscher. Emiliano Insua and the kids did have some good moments. This team hasn’t hit on a center back signings since Jelle Van Damme. Unless the offense could score at will (read: Pavon putting the team on his back), the defense simply couldn’t keep the team in games.
In hindsight, Zlatan Ibrahimovic papered over a lot of cracks in this roster. In his second year, Schelotto wasn’t able to implement a style of play that worked with his personnel to get results. That might be the biggest shocker and component of the team’s downfall this year.
What went right in 2020:
As previously stated, Pavon was on pace to put up MVP level numbers halfway through the scheduled 23-game season. He was the one player who was consistent and quality.
Other than that, a few of the kids had some good moments. Efrain Alvarez and Ethan Zubak saw increased playing time, though some would question if they showed this year that they can become quality MLS players. Julian Araujo started 17 of 22 games and showed his versatility. While he’s had an issue with red cards, U.S. Soccer and some clubs in Europe are taking notice of his talent.
Kai Koreniuk and Cameron Dunbar could be vying for first team minutes as well. For all the talk about the LA Galaxy academy, this year might be the first sign of a young core building within the club. The jury’s still out as to whether they’re good enough to start for an aspiring MLS Cup contender.
What they need to do to improve in 2021:
Where does this writer even begin?
They need to nail the coaching hire. The last two years with a Head Coach and General Manager with no prior management experience in MLS hurt the team significantly. Club’s that have had success in the MLS 3.0 Era have had a high MLS IQ technical person. This year just further proved how much of the technical brain trust during the dynasty was all Bruce Arena.
The club needs a coach who can navigate the idiosyncrasies of MLS. That coach also have to have an answer for how to get value of Chicharito, unless GM Dennis te Kloese can maneuver a loan or sale to Liga MX. That coach also had to be in congruence with the club on what to do about the Pavon situation. His loan is set to expire and if the club want to bring him back, they need to negotiate the transfer fee down.
After that, the backline needs to be rebuilt. This will take at least two great signings or trades. This will also probably require the new coaching staff having a plan for improving several current defenders.
If the club can make a good coaching signing, find a way to affordably retain Pavon permanently (or bring in a comparable replacement), make Chicharito not a total bust, and patch together an average backline, then the Galaxy should make the playoffs in 2021. Furthermore, this would be several big steps towards again becoming an MLS Cup contender.
Whether all this can happen under President Chris Klein given his track record might be the biggest question of all.