Alexi Lalas is a confident man and a fine public speaker, and when he promised change to a restless group of Galaxy fans back in March, you were inclined to believe him.
Lalas stood in jeans and a casual shirt in a lounge at the Home Depot Center and told how the addition of former World Footballer of the Year Ruud Gullit as head coach would help the club match its marketing strides with on-field success.
And he admitted that he staked his own reputation on whether Major League Soccer’s most famous club could emerge as a force after an irritating spell in the doldrums.
Yet hard as Lalas, the club’s president, tried, the 2008 season has once again descended into a frustrating melting pot of underachievement and unrest.
Lalas paid the price with his job on Monday, part of a giant shake-up that saw Gullit quit for “personal reasons.”
Team Owner AEG believes that by taking affirmative action now, the dwindling possibility of a playoff run can be resurrected before it’s too late.
But five months from that sunny March day when good times beckoned and hope was fresh, the Galaxy is once more a club in crisis.
Gullit looked like a strong appointment when he was unveiled as Frank Yallop’s successor after a miserable 2007 campaign.
As a man not just accustomed to, but actively fond of, the spotlight, there was little chance that he would be fazed by the media glare surrounding England midfielder David Beckham.
Yet the Dutchman never really settled in California and struggled to come to grips with the complexities of MLS.
Concepts such as a salary caps, SuperDrafts and combines were alien to him, and it can be argued that he did not invest enough time into understanding the vagaries of the league.
His relationship with Lalas soon deteriorated, and it was not long before reports of player unrest started filtering from the locker room.
The past two months were woeful, though, as the team embarked on a seven-game winless streak that took it from Western Conference leader and favorite to playoff outsider.
The defense – the one area the Galaxy simply had to sort out – could not be fixed and again became the team’s downfall.
For that, Lalas and Gullit must both take blame, the coach for not implementing a better tactical structure and the president for not being able to recruit the necessary help.
Lalas set high standards for himself, could not live up to them, and should not be shocked at being shunted unceremoniously out of the door.
He was not afraid to make big moves and will forever go down in U.S. soccer history as the man who went and got Beckham.
His departure is no guarantee of positive change, and the Galaxy can only guess at when they will emerge from under their dark cloud.
Given the strength of AEG’s actions, it appears that owners Tim Leiweke and Phil Anschutz feel a complete overhaul is needed.
“With Ruud moving on, we believe that this is the right time to make more sweeping changes throughout the organization,” said Leiweke. “Our commitment continues to be focused on not only winning the MLS Cup this and every season but to build a club capable of competing at the international level.
“This decision is the right one for the organization, the right one for the players and the right one for our fans.”
When it was announced last year that Beckham would be moving to the United States, the Galaxy did not envision things panning out like this.
Instead of being in contention for the title year after year, the club instead finds itself back to square one at the midway point of the second of Beckham’s five contracted seasons in L.A.
The club needs to heal and to grow and to quit looking for short-term fixes. It needs stability and careful planning and solid decision made for soccer – not business – reasons.
More than anything else it needs the one thing it does not have – thanks to the impatience of the owners and fans and the skepticism of U.S. soccer followers.
- Alexi Lalas
- Ruud Gullit