Doug McIntyre’s weekly MLS column, 23 Thoughts, parses through the latest insights and inside info from around American soccer.
Could Bruce Arena be headed back to the LA Galaxy? The former Galaxy head coach and general manager recently interviewed for a front office job within the organization, according multiple sources.
The exact title of the role hasn’t yet been determined — could be called GM, could be President of Soccer — but basically it’s a GM-like position to run the soccer side of things alongside team president Chris Klein. My understanding is that Arena interviewed with Klein a few weeks ago, but that others were also being considered.
As the Galaxy’s coach and GM from 2008-16, Arena led the league’s flagship club to four MLS Cup appearances and three titles. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since he left to take over the U.S. national team two years ago, missing out on the final day of the regular season in spectacular fashion this year.
1. Arena wouldn’t confirm that he had been interviewed when reached by Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. He also didn’t deny it: “I think the people that can confirm or deny that are the Galaxy, not me,” he said.
2. I called the Galaxy’s excellent VP of communications, Brendan Hannan. He wouldn’t confirm the names of anyone Klein has spoken to, as expected, but said that Klein “has had a number of conversations with a number of individuals over the last couple months.”
3. The entire organization is still reeling from its latest playoff failure, which is understandable. But the process started shortly after the club parted ways with Sigi Schmid, its second coach in as many years, in September. “Mr. Anschutz, Dan Beckerman and Chris Klein are taking a look at everything,” Hannan said, referring to owner Philip Anschutz and Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO Beckerman. Because it’s still relatively early, things are fluid. There is no timeline to make any hire.
4. Klein told Scott French of MLSSoccer.com that Dominic Kinnear, who replaced Schmid on an interim basis, would be interviewed for the permanent coaching job. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kinnear is considered for the GM-like post, too.
5. One source mentioned former Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant as another possible candidate for the GM gig. Dunivant, who played 13 MLS seasons and won four of his five league championships in LA, is currently GM of USL side Sacramento Republic. Before that, he was the director of soccer and business development for the San Fransisco Deltas, which won the NASL title as an expansion team last season before folding. Clearly Dunivant is an exec on the rise.
6. On the player personnel front, the big question is whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns. Klein is on record that the Galaxy want him back, and the Swedish forward is under contract for 2019. Zlatan does what Zlatan wants, though. My gut says he leaves. If he stays, it won’t come cheap.
7. Ibrahimovich made just $1.5 million this season, a steal before he ever kicked a ball in MLS. But few predicted he would be so dominant, especially coming off an ACL tear at age 36-37. After scoring 22 goals, he’s almost certainly going to want a steep raise to stick around. Wayne Rooney, by comparison, made almost twice as much as Zlatan did this season. Ibra averaged a goal every 97 minutes, which is insane. Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez, in the most prolific season in MLS’s 23-year history, was only slightly better, scoring every 93 minutes. Rooney averaged one every 137 minutes for D.C. United, although his impact on club obviously went far beyond the numbers. (DCU’s historic turnaround earned Wazza my vote for league MVP over Ibrahimovic and Martinez, even though Rooney arrived midseason.)
8. Not only would the Galaxy have to pay Ibrahimovic, they would probably have to move one of their three designated players to do it. Romain Alessandrini and brothers Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos are all under contract for next season, but multiple sources have told me that the Montreal Impact are interested in Alessandrini.
9. Alessandrini’s speed on the right wing would counterbalance the great Nacho Piatti on the left, and the 29-year-old Frenchman certainly fits the profile of an Impact player off the field.
10. Living in Montreal, I see the Impact play more than most MLS observers. And I couldn’t agree more with my former colleague Taylor Twellman that Piatti is criminally under-appreciated by the majority of fans and media in the United States, and has been for years. Case in point: Piatti, who finished the season with 16 goals and 13 assists, wasn’t among the five MVP finalists MLS named on Wednesday. Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron and LAFC’s Carlos Vela, who were less productive numbers-wise, both made the list.
11. Piatti isn’t the only Impact player who flies under the radar in the U.S. playing in a French-speaking Canadian market. Goalkeeper Evan Bush has quietly been among the most consistent backstops in the league since becoming the Impact’s starter in 2015, posting an MLS-best 132 saves this season. Only one keeper has made more saves in a season over the last 11 years: Jon Busch with San Jose in 2014.
12. Bush is also a steal. The Ohio native earned $157,925 this year, but he’s out of a contract and should get rewarded. Bush set career highs in saves, games and minutes played, shots against, and wins and shutouts in 2018. Other backstops who signed new deals this year — David Bingham, Alex Bono, Stefan Frei and David Ousted — will make more than double Bush’s 2018 salary next season.
13. Remi Garde said Thursday that if he returns as Montreal’s coach, because you never know with the Impact, re-upping Bush will be an offseason priority:
Re: Goalkeepers – he says priority is to resign Evan Bush. He wants him back next year. He added that he's spoken with Crepeau, and Crepeau made it clear to him that he wants to be a #1 somewhere in the MLS.
Doesn't sound like there is much chance Crepeau lands back with #IMFC
— Douglas Gelevan (@DGelevan) November 1, 2018
14. Speaking of keepers and contracts, I’m hearing that Sean Johnson and New York City FC, which advanced to the Eastern Conference semis with Wednesday’s 3-1 knockout round win over the Philadelphia Union, have agreed on a four-year guaranteed contract worth about $480,000 per.
15. Chicago Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez held a media roundtable Thursday in the wake of the club’s miserable, playoff-less season. There were tons of interesting nuggets during the hour-long and, at times, testy session.
16. It started with a mea culpa: “I am responsible,” Rodriguez said in his opening remarks. “I didn’t do a good enough job. No one should blame ownership. We had all the resources that we need to succeed. It’s not the fault of the coaching staff. This season has my fingerprints on it.”
17. Asked what he did wrong, Rodriguez cited a lack of urgency in signing new players. Several deals, including what he said was a $17 million offer for an unnamed attacking midfielder, fell through. “Not doing bad deals is good, but not getting good players is bad,” he quipped. Does he want re-sign coach Veljko Paunovic, whose contract is up? “It remains my intention for Pauno to come back,” Rodriguez said. “I believe he still wants to return. We have not yet met since the season ended — he is currently overseas scouting players — and he and I are scheduled to meet next week.”
18. The Fire’s problems might have been more profound off the field, where they finished 19th out of 23 MLS teams. (23 Thoughts. Get it?) The club was second to last in attendance, and the relationship between the front office and fans deteriorated to the point that several supporters groups were banned from Toyota Park, with others boycotting games. Not good. I asked where the club and its most dedicated fans stand now. Rodriguez said that he last met with the leadership of several supporters groups in August, and that another get-together is scheduled for next week.
19. “As a recommendation that came out of the August meeting, I went and met with some individual supporters and I’ve learned a lot in those conversations,” he said. “I think the biggest takeaway is with the club we need to do a better job of communicating and we have to find some new vehicles to communicate. I still believe that we are deeply aligned in what we want.”
20. Toyota Park’s remote location in Bridgeview, Illinois, about 15 miles south of downtown Chicago and almost impossible to access without a car, has often been blamed for the Fire’s attendance woes. The club is just 12 years into a 30-year lease there, so while there’s the odd high-profile friendly at Soldier Field, they seem locked into the suburbs for the long haul. Meantime, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts earlier this year pledged to start a USL team within the city limits that would play in its own 20,000-seat stadium.Rodriguez said the Fire has considered building a training facility either in or closer to the city proper. I asked him if there was any path back to Chicago on a more permanent basis.
21. “A deeper connection to all of the neighborhoods in Chicagoland are important,” he said. “Just having proximity to the city and living in the city helps on a lot of fronts. That’s where the Bears and the Blackhawks and the Bulls and the Cubs and the White Sox all live … it’s a complex question and situation.”
22. Three Fire players retired this week. One of them was 37-year-old forward/folk hero Alan Gordon. Makes sense. (Rodriguez joked that if the Fire is in the playoff chase next year, he might try to lure late-goal specialist Gordon back midseason.) But the other two were young defenders Brandon Vincent, 24, and Christian Dean, 25. Both are college guys — Vincent graduated from Stanford — who I’m sure will be successful whatever they do next. But I long for the day when this sort of thing is unheard of in MLS. It’s not right now. Two years ago, former Orlando City goalkeeper Tally Hall retired at 30 to become a City of Orlando cop. Vincent made $144,000 this season. Dean’s salary was $93,000. That’s a dream for most 20-somethings. For professional athletes who subject their bodies to damage on a daily basis, who can be traded to another city in another country at any minute, it might not be worth it. I have no idea how much money influenced the decision for either player. But it’s safe to say it would have been a harder choice for a guy making significantly more.
23. Last week, I noted that just two of the players on the most recent U.S. national team roster speak Spanish: Kellyn Acosta and Marky Delgado. A couple of contacts reached out later to say that neither player speaks the language particularly well. It’s no secret that the makeup of the USMNT has not always been representative of the country’s population; about 16 percent of American citizens are Hispanic and Latino. But maybe that’s changing. U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos’ starting lineup for Thursday’s opening game of the CONCACAF championship featured four Latinos: Philly’s Matt Real, Brandon Servania of FC Dallas, Juan Pablo Torres and Alex Mendez. Another, Ulysses Llanez, entered off the bench in the second half of the 7-1 win over Puerto Rico.
More soccer on Yahoo Sports:
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• USMNT Stock Watch: Gyasi Zardes trending up, Matt Miazga down
• MLS Decision Day: Red Bulls win Shield, no playoffs for Zlatan’s Galaxy