The Los Angeles Galaxy entered December without a general manager, a full-time coach or any public assurances that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, their best player, would be back next season.
The team crossed two of those things off its to-do list last week. But it was the one thing that didn’t get done that best shows how much work the Galaxy still have to do.
Less than a day before Caleb Porter was to be introduced as the team’s new coach, his name was suddenly dropped from consideration, surfacing instead in Columbus, where he was negotiating a deal to take over the Crew. Exactly what happened depends on who is telling the story: The Galaxy say new GM Dennis te Kloese had last-minute reservations about hiring Porter and pulled the plug on the deal. People close to Porter say it was the coach who turned down the offer.
Either way it’s an embarrassment for the Galaxy, who were so sure Porter was their guy team president Chris Klein, Te Kloese and Dan Beckerman, CEO of AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, sat with him courtside at a Lakers game Monday, a public appearance that indicated the talks were going well.
If Te Kloese had second thoughts and overruled the rest of the organization at the last minute, the Galaxy look disorganized. If Porter preferred the Crew to the Galaxy — the most-accepted narrative — then it’s another body blow to what used to be the league’s signature franchise.
With only five weeks before the start of training camp, the Galaxy are still scrambling to fill a vacancy that has existed since Sigi Schmid was fired in early September. Caretaker coach Dominic Kinnear and Porter are the only two names the Galaxy have confirmed as candidates, and with the team having already shown its hand with their public courting of Porter, anyone invited back for further discussions will know they are no better than a consolation choice.
The Porter fiasco interrupted what should have been a victory lap for the team. Last week the club introduced Te Kloese, director of national teams for the Mexican soccer federation, to head up its soccer operations and reached agreement on a lucrative new contract with Ibrahimovic, a deal Te Kloese ushered over the finish line and one that is expected to be formally announced this week.
Both are huge positives for a team coming off the worst two-season stretch in franchise history.
Te Kloese is an inspired hire, one who could reset the trajectory of the franchise provided the rest of the front office gets out of his way and allows him to implement his vision. The Dutch native’s background is in youth development, something he was wildly successful at with Chivas USA, the Mexican national federation and two Liga MX teams. And that makes him uniquely qualified to integrate the Galaxy’s youth system with the first team and Galaxy II, the club’s USL reserve team, something the front office tried and failed at two years ago.
“There is a high priority on a much higher connection between the first team, the second team and the academy,” Te Kloese said. “We need to have a clear idea where we want to go. We have to have a clear identity in how we develop our players. That is a big challenge because the first team of the Galaxy will always be known as a place for high-profile players. But there is a need for a little bit more of a local identity.”
In the meantime he has Ibrahimovic, whose return was always way more likely than the people at AC Milan, Ibrahimovic’s most prominent offseason suitor, thought. His demands for making that happen were simple: Ibrahimovic hadn’t played on a team that lost as many games as the Galaxy did last season since he left Sweden, so he wanted assurances the team would make the structural changes necessary to win. He also wanted more money.
The hiring of Te Kloese apparently satisfied the first demand and the Galaxy are giving Ibrahimovic a substantial raise.
In the spring of 2017, the Galaxy offered Ibrahimovic the richest contract in MLS history, one worth more than $7.1 million a season. But when Ibrahimovic suffered a devastating knee injury playing for Manchester United two months later, the team pulled that offer and gave its open designated player spot to Jonathan dos Santos.
Ibrahimovic’s recovery was swift, but when the team resumed talks with him it had no DP spot to offer. So with the season underway and with no mechanism to create a DP spot, Ibrahimovic signed for $1.5 million, the maximum the team pay him under MLS salary guidelines.
He then made a compelling argument he deserved more, scoring 22 goals and adding 10 assists in 27 games. The team went 9-2-4 when he scored and 4-10-5 when he didn’t.
Now the Galaxy has to find a way to fit Ibrahimovic’s new salary — likely in line with what he was offered in 2017 — under the MLS cap. With all three DPs — Dos Santos, his brother Giovani and midfielder Romain Alessandrini — signed through next season, the team will have to trade, buy out or find a way to buy down one of those contracts.
“Right now the first step will be to observe and to look deep into the organization and how to improve it in a very short time,” Te Kloese said in Spanish, one of four languages he speaks fluently. “There are things on the table that we need to define and we have to decide quickly to improve. And then, with a little more time, we’ll obviously have a clearer idea and a better evaluation of all the areas of the club where we can get better.”
Signing a coach would be a good start.
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