Onalfo out, Sigi in: Why Galaxy moves happened now

For the third time in less than a year, the signing of a Designated Player has dovetailed with the firing of a head coach.

Last year, the impending arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro didn't deter the Sounders from firing Sigi Schmid.

Former Quake mentor Dominic Kinnear never got the chance to work with Valeri Qazaishvili, whose acquisition had been pending for weeks when Kinnear got the boot a month ago.

And on Thursday, the Galaxy announced the hiring of Schmid to replace the just-fired Curt Onalfo hours before the widely reported transfer of Jonathan Dos Santos became official.

The specifics of each situation differ, yet the cases of the Schmid and Kinnear departures are similar. Long-time coaches with MLS Cup titles in the bag, both were axed by general managers hired long after they were.

Garth Lagerwey
made a bold move that worked out great when replacement Brian Schmetzer guided the Sounders to their first league crown; Jesse Fioranelli elected to replace Kinnear with former technical director Chris Leitch, who debuted with a dramatic defeat of the Galaxy at Stanford Stadium but is currently mired in a losing streak of three league games.

In the realm of speculation, these decisions can be explained simply: the GMs could not afford to let the head coaches integrate the new DPs successfully, and thus make it much harder to jettison them had they finished the season well and reached the playoffs.

When Lagerwey decided to replace Schmid, he delivered a few disparaging remarks about the team's play, though just about any coach and any team would require considerable time to replace Obafemi Martins, whose surprise departure less than a month before the 2016 season opener uprooted one of the league's best attacking units.

Lodeiro, while a very different type of player, came in as a replacement and won Newcomer of the Year honors as well as a league crown. Schmid played a role in that acquisition, as did technical director Chris Henderson, but the details don’t matter when wins start piling up and the nebulous image of an MLS Cup  comes into focus.

The Quakes can still make the postseason, of course, though leaking 12 goals in the last three league games doesn't brighten up the ledger. Moves to sign several players using TAM money during the offseason have upgraded the overall quality, or at least it looks that way so far. Yet the promised arrival of a DP as the final piece in an offensive rebuild did not buy Kinnear any time.

By promoting Onalfo, who had guided the ascendancy of several players from Galaxy II to the first team, the team stated its intent to refresh the squad from within the organization rather than find replacements on rosters of rival teams or clubs overseas. Predecessor Bruce Arena had won three MLS Cups thanks to the contributions of stars such as Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, but during his tenure the team also acquired such talents as Juninho, Mike Magee, Marcelo Sarvas; drafted such stalwarts as Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza; and groomed Homegrown Players in the manner of Gyasi Zardes.

"We've been very clear from the start there's no new direction for the Galaxy," said president Chris Klein during a teleconference call with reporters Thursday held to announce Schmid's hiring. "The objective for us is still to be able to win. We believe in our system, we believe in our academy and the younger players we have coming through. The design was never to play a bunch of younger players. We had a very old roster that year and we transitioned that."

This is not a change in club direction. This is a new leader coming in with experience, the winningest coach in our league that can help lead us to where we want to go.

Upon Onalfo's hiring last December, Klein had said, “In addition to his experience and knowledge of Major League Soccer as both a player and a coach, Curt has an intimate understanding of the structure and culture of this club and has done a tremendous job with LA Galaxy II. 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.”

Extensive injuries forced Onalfo to reach deeper into his pool of backup players than he would have preferred and the occasional good games for Jack McBean, Jose Villarreal Bradford Jamieson IV and others weren't enough to consistently generate points.

In the case of Schmid replacing Onalfo, a veteran coach with experience at D.C. United and Kansas City who had been coaching the Galaxy II reserve team, one is reminded of the famous quote by former boxing champion Mike Tyson: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

For Onalfo and the Galaxy, the killer punch was not one but five straight losses. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, both Schmid and team president Chris Klein said the negotiations and signing took very little time, "a 48-hour, maybe 72-hour process" according to Schmid.

"Sigi's record speaks for itself," said Klein of the league's all-time leader in coaching victories (254 including playoffs). "So when we took a step back and evaluated everything, he was the right man for the Galaxy job at this time."

Of course, Schmid's record was the same when Klein promoted Onalfo seven months ago. Schmid may have been the right man but the time was wrong. Bad losses made it right. Last weekend, in its first game following the FIFA international break, the Galaxy lost at New England, 4-3, one of several painful defeats it suffered under Onalfo.

Its embarrassing 1-6-3 record at StubHub Center includes an historic 6-2 thrashing by Real Salt Lake on the Fourth of July. For much of the season the attack has been inconsistent and the defense just plain poor.

"It’s more than personnel, it's a question of how we're defending," said Schmid of 37 goals conceded, the fourth-most in the league. "We need to alter a little bit how we're defending to fully take advantage of the skill set of the players that we have back there. I think at times the team defended in a way that made it difficult for those guys, so that's one of the objectives that we set for the future."

The future starts Saturday in Seattle, which is comfortably in the playoff tier with 30 points, eight more than the ninth-place Galaxy. Eerily similar are the plights of the 2016 Sounders and 2017 Galaxy. Both made moves with 14 games to play and needing points to climb into the playoff slots. Schmid takes over the Galaxy exactly one year and one day after Seattle dismissed him.

"There are a lot of calendar event I've got to change and a lot of flights I have to cancel," said Schmid of a sudden upheaval in his life. "This is what I want to do.  The irony of playing against Seattle is certainly unique situation that just happens to turn out this way, but it doesn’t matter if it's Seattle or if it's someone else. We need to start collecting points."

4 comments about " Onalfo out, Sigi in: Why Galaxy moves happened now".
  1. Ric Fonseca, July 28, 2017 at 2:36 p.m.

    As I've previously commented, I have known Sigi since 1971, the first time he set foot on the UCLA campus accompanied by an old mutual friend, Joe Bonchonsky, and Sigi - for all intents and purposes signed and became a student-athlete and member of the UCLA Bruins. And so I've followed his playing, academic, collegiate and professional coaching careers. Of course, his moves in the MLS are well chronicled and the last time we talked was at the NSCAA Convention here in Los Angeles. I am not writing just because our friendship, but I know that while, like all of us, he has his detractors, but because I know that Sigi will do all he can to right the LAG ship, a task that won't be easy, and many of us trust that the reported "interim" tag is removed and he's named permanently to the position. And, with the coming of the other Dos Santos brother, and the other players, for sure it will take a bit of time, so to mi amigo Sig, buena suerte, good luck und viel gluck!!!

  2. John Soares, July 28, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

    Good luck Sgi, starting on Sunday!

  3. cisco martinez, July 29, 2017 at 1:22 p.m.

    Sigi is a good coach and has had success developing our youth national teams, my gripe is mainly with the San Jose Earthquakes upper management getting rid of Kinnear. When kinnear was sacked the quakes were in playoff contention and now under Leitch they are not, Kinnear rightfully was brought in because of his MLS success with the quakes as an assistant and at Dynamo with MLS champions.

  4. Paul Stierle, August 1, 2017 at 12:19 a.m.

    It is good to have Sigi back. Look forward in what he can do with a franchise he knows all too well.

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