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What next for LA follies?
by Ridge Mahoney, August 12th, 2008 7AM

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Make no mistake, Anschutz Entertainment Group czar Tim Leiweke knows success from failure, how to turn loss into profit, and how to move product and sell tickets.

AEG is renowned, if not feared, in the entertainment business for betting big and cashing huge. It runs and is majority owner of the Staples Center, one of the busiest entertainment complexes in the world. To properly showcase singer Celine Dion, AEG signed her to a three-year contract in 2003, created and produced a stage show, "A New Day ...", and invested in a theater, The Colosseum at Caesars' Palace, to showcase her in Las Vegas. The Colosseum, a 4,100-seat theater, itself cost nearly $100 million.

For the Los Angeles Galaxy, Leiweke and his boss, Phil Anschutz, have done their best with stars, luring Landon Donovan back from Europe, and inking the soccer megadeal of all time, a.k.a. David Beckham. Home Depot Center cost $150 million and is a spectacular facility, though staging money-grubbing events like the X-Games and renting it out to Chivas USA does tend to tear up the field.

But once you get beyond signing up all the stardom one MLS team, and presumably one salary cap, can absorb, what more can you do?

Signing a former superstar foreign player as a coach, despite his spotty record with three European teams, fits the Leiwekesque method. Sigi Schmid got the boot while in first place, Steve Sampson lost the job less than a year after winning the league title, Frank Yallop lasted barely a season and a half. Did they lose too much or were they just too dull?

Not to worry. Put stars on the field and one more on the bench, a lover of sexy football by the way, and it's showtime, baby! The signing of Beckham propelled him, his team, and MLS to stratospheric heights, and earned Leiweke, deservedly, a Sports Executive of the Year Award from the Sports Business Journal.

But pro sport is about the sport as much as the business of sport, and picking Ruud Gullit, as well has promoting Alexi Lalas up the corporate ladder as the lower rungs of San Jose and the MetroStars broke off beneath him, made about as much sense then as it does now. Gullit passed up the MLS draft to attend to "family matters," responded with a quizzical look when asked about drafted players, seldom hung around the Galaxy offices to work the phones or watch tape, complained about MLS player-acquisition processes and the reserve league, and two weeks ago, put his magnificent house in the Hollywood hills up for sale.

Not yet clear is whether he approved that listing before or after Leiweke stormed into the team's locker room and told all concerned to shape up or ship out. According to the team's press release announcing the changes, Gullit resigned for "personal reasons" and Lalas was fired. Meddling by Lalas during the tenure of Yallop sparked friction between the coaches and management, which may have prompted AEG to promote former MLS midfielder Paul Bravo to director of coaching a year ago.

During the SuperDraft, attended by Bravo but not Gullit, Bravo was asked what his duties were. Only half-joking, he replied, "Trying to re-invent the wheel." He declined to elaborate. That wheel is looking pretty rickety right now.

Presumably, AEG won't have to pay off more than a smidgen of Gullit's three-year contract, reportedly worth $6 million, since he walked out, and won't lose much by jettisoning Lalas, either, since his contract expires this year. Such a financial wakeup might bode well for the long-term future, as any team heavily overloading its salary budget on three attacking players - combined, Donovan, Beckham and Carlos Ruiz account for about $1 million of the $2.18 million salary cap - is headed for bad times.

Nothing rosy can be forecast for the short-term, unless ex-U.S. international Cobi Jones has ramped up to speed in the past eight months as assistant coach, Argentine defender Eduardo Dominguez reverses his awful debut performance, and U.S. defender Cory Gibbs joins the back line and turns into Superman.

There are viable coaching options out there: Revs assistant coach Paul Mariner and Dynamo assistant John Spencer are obvious candidates, and so too is Bruce Arena, despite his disdain for Southern California and what he once termed an "amusement park," i.e., the HDC. Schmid would come back to LA in a heartbeat, or at least at the end of the season, but that winning record in Columbus could be a problem.

However, seeing the train wreck the Galaxy has become, regardless of the facilities and the money to be offered, any prospect would be wary. Three shakeups in three seasons is hardly a bedrock of stability on which to build success.

"Job listing: Major League Soccer Head Coach. Must manage ambitious and clueless subsidiary of global entertainment empire. Modicum of experience necessary, ambition a plus, ignorance required. Salary commensurate with nothing but whims of those at the top and their well-connected entertainment pals."

Apply today!

 



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