CARSON, Calif. — "New era, same culture."
That was the message Los Angeles Galaxy supporters unveiled in the stands ahead of the home-opening 3-2 win against New York Red Bulls. Four words that spoke to a fresh slate, and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez brought that sentiment to life on Sunday with his first Major League Soccer hat trick.
He was greeted by a standing ovation when subbed off from the 6,853 fans that were in attendance for the first time in over 13 months. His five goals in two games have already more than doubled his output over the entire 2020 campaign, but stop asking him to reflect.
“It’s the past, we’re not going to change that,” Hernandez said.
The attention this year will revolve around Chicharito, which is to be expected. But the Galaxy are the only team in MLS to win their first two games this season, and those early results are the byproduct of something deeper than one player.
When Greg Vanney was announced as the new head coach back in January, Galaxy GM Dennis te Kloese and president Chris Klein couldn’t help but rave about the hire. Vanney, a former Galaxy player, won three trophies with the club and is tied for seventh-most appearances in franchise history.
Simply put: He knows what the Galaxy are all about.
And from his very first day at the helm he’s preached about instilling a culture. For the last few years that was borderline impossible, because there was no culture; there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Everything revolved around him, and at least one high-profile player has said it created friction in the locker room. A lot of it went overlooked because Zlatan was a walking, goal-scoring headline, but it’s no secret how that ruffled the dynamic of an organization used to winning titles. The Galaxy haven't done that in a while.
It's early, but Vanney's already getting results with an imperfect roster. What's the reason?
“The change in culture, new coach and a little bit of everything,” midfielder Jonathan dos Santos said. “I can tell you personally, this is the first time I feel these vibes in the locker room. We feel like a family, brothers. I feel like I know my teammates a lot more.”
Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan expressed similar sentiments.
“The feeling in the group right now, the way we are with each other, the way we enjoy being around each other, the camaraderie, the brotherhood — all of that has been at a high level and really fun," Kljestan said.
Whether it’s just cracking jokes or playing music during training, the players say they're looser because Vanney understands the importance in letting players be themselves.
And it’s not just about what the coaching staff is saying.
“We’re asking our guys to think, problem solve and do a lot of things on the field that require them to be clear in their minds,” Vanney explained. “The last thing you want them to do is be uptight, nervous, anxious, anything other than relaxed and feel like they can be themselves.
“I think it’s an environment that I as a player would’ve wanted to be in and around. We try to create that for these guys and help them to understand why. I’m glad that they appreciate it. I think some of these results are them fighting for the culture that they have now and showing their respect for that and the fans.”
In his last job with Toronto FC, Vanney was named 2017 MLS and CONCACAF Coach of the Year after the Reds became the first MLS team to win a domestic treble: MLS Cup the Supporters’ Shield and the Canadian Championship. Playoff and cup final appearances became the norm under Vanney.
“(He's) fantastic,” Chicharito said. “That’s why he did what he did in Toronto and now he’s trying to do it over here. The coaching staff has been so good."
Beating Miami and New York by twin 3-2 scorelines is impressive, but the schedule beefs up the next two weeks with a trip to Seattle and the first El Trafico of the season vs. LAFC.
Regardless, fans and players are back to using the phrase the club used when they signed Chicharito — Imaginémonos cosas chingonas, which means "let's imagine cool things."
“This year is going to be completely different than all the others I’ve been here,” dos Santos said.
Different than the most recent seasons is the goal, and back to what made the Galaxy the most successful franchise in MLS history.
New era, same culture.
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