The news dropped like dueling sledgehammers on Wednesday morning: First, the LA Galaxy announced that they had fired manager Curt Onalfo and replaced him with Sigi Schmid.
Then, not two hours later, the Galaxy’s new cross-town rivals answered. LAFC announced that it had landed former U.S. national team manager Bob Bradley as its first ever head coach.
The battle to own Los Angeles is very much on – and, amazingly enough, it’s the Galaxy, with their six MLS Cups and global brand name, seem to be playing from behind.
Mired in ninth place in the Western Conference and owners of a shocking 1-6-3 home record, the Galaxy are turning to Schmid to salvage a season that is well on its way to robbing the Galaxy of its reputation the league’s gold standard.
Schmid, 64 and entering his eighteenth season as an MLS manager, begins his second stint as Galaxy boss with a point to prove. After seven wildly successful years in Seattle, Schmid was fired midway through last season – and had to watch as the Sounders won their first MLS Cup without him.
“I definitely want to continue coaching,” Schmid told FourFourTwo last August. “For me, my passion, my desire, my fire is still there to coach. I definitely still want to win another title, win an MLS Cup. I definitely want to do that. So we’ll relax a little bit, wait and see, and look for the right opportunity, and, hopefully, that will present itself.”
Now, after a year on the unemployment line, it has. In a duel profile of Schmid and Bruce Arena on MLS Insider last year, Schmid – comparing his two zero MLS Cups to Arena’s five – tried to take solace in the fact that his teams have, over the years, produced more national team players than Arena’s have.
It was, in a way, a rather pitiful claim. It’s Arena, after all, who is in his second spell and ninth year in total in charge of U.S.
And in many ways it’s Arena – who won three of his championships with L.A. – who Schmid is chasing, trying win the last title that the Sounders marched to without him last winter.
Schmid now inherits a team in need of a jolt and a club feeling the heat. To put it simply, this is the worst possible time for the Galaxy to be having their worst season in a decade.
LAFC – with a sparkling new stadium going up in Exposition Park and a superstar team of owners eager to spend – is ready to take the Los Angeles soccer market and MLS at large by storm next spring.
The Galaxy, due simply to their location in Carson, were always going to be susceptible to a market incursion from a club in the city proper. But a bad Galaxy team in Carson? Competing with what could be a very good team next to the L.A. Coliseum? That’s a recipe for disaster.
So Onalfo, after twenty games of his first season in charge, is gone – and a club that announced at the start of 2017 that it would be moving away from big-name signings is inking Jonathan dos Santos after making runs at the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dario Benedetto.
Thus, the pressure is on for Schmid from the jump. His contract is reportedly only guaranteed through the end of this season, with the club holding an option on its manager for 2018.
Fail to make the playoffs, and Schmid’s coaching career could be over – along with the nascent GM career of his former player Pete Venagas.
The irony here is that Schmid takes over the Galaxy in almost exactly the same place the Sounders were in when he was fired in Seattle last season – team badly underachieving but about to be reinforced in a big way with dos Santos arriving just as Nicolas Lodeiro did in the Emerald City at this point last year.
Brian Schmetzer, the hometown coach who got the Sounders job, secured his future by winning MLS Cup. Schmid, back at the controls of his hometown club, might need to make a similarly big splash.
Even more so because a big splash is certainly what the Galaxy’s budding rivals made on Thursday morning with the announcement that Bradley – who stands alongside Arena as a giant of American soccer coaching – will be their first manager.
Luring Bradley back to MLS after eleven years away – with the national team, in Egypt, in Norway, in France, and in Wales – is a significant accomplishment.
It both speaks to LAFC’s ambition and serves as a strong signal: Bradley is taking this club and all that surrounds it seriously. You probably should too.
After all, it was going to take a project with significant allure to get Bradley to abandon a European coaching odyssey that was halted so abruptly at Swansea last winter. This is that project – a club that promises to be one of MLS’ biggest and boldest.
But more than that, MLS is where Bradley’s compatriots, coaching protégés, players, son, and brother are. For an American coach, it’s the place to be now in a way that it wasn’t when Bradley turned down the Vancouver job to go to little Stabaek before the 2014 season.
Bradley is returning a very different league than the one he departed in 2006. His last MLS club, Chivas USA, no longer exists. That league had just twelve teams. David Beckham and the Designated Player rule hadn’t yet arrived. The stakes now are considerably higher.
Bradley’s Chicago team won MLS Cup in its expansion season of 1999, but Atlanta this year have reset expectations for what a club can accomplish in its first season in the league’s modern era – and LAFC will expect to contend from the start.
They’ve now hired a manager who can both manage big egos and, as his time with Egypt and Stabaek, is an exceptional evaluator of talent with connections on all over the world.
It should be an enjoyable challenge for Bradley, so often the underdog, to recast himself with his new club as an alpha dog. The first step on that path for LAFC and its new manager? Beating the Galaxy, both off the field and on it.
The battle for the City of Angels is very much on.