The LA Galaxy ended a difficult campaign with a heavy home loss to FC Dallas. After hearing the season’s final whistle and some final words from the team, it’s time to begin to assess what’s coming in the off-season and beyond.
Saturday, October 21st was decision day in the MLS. As teams across the league battled it out to rise up the table as much as possible, the LA Galaxy hosted FC Dallas on fan appreciation night. Unfortunately, their supporters were sent home disappointed following a 1-4 drubbing at the hands of the Texans.
It seemed evident from kick-off that Dallas was playing at an intensity that LA just could not match. The Galaxy continued their habit of starting awfully as they were two-nil down within 15 minutes courtesy of early efforts from Bernard Kamungo and Ema Twumasi.
LA Riot Squad Player of the Year Raheem Edwards scored in the 24th minute, momentarily breathing some hope into Dignity Health Sports Park. He entered the match as a substitute only 18 minutes in, replacing Julian Aude, who left the match as he was still recovering from a recent fever. Not long later, Edwards received a long switch and found himself isolated on the left edge of the box. He then went on a run that saw him sneak between his marker and the touchline to find enough space to get a shot off and squeak the ball past Maarten Paes from an incredibly tight angle.
Unfortunately, his goal would be the last Galaxy fans would celebrate in 2023, as FC Dallas promptly reminded everyone that they had something more to play for that night. Hardly more than five minutes after conceding, Kamungo scored his second of the night, assisted by United States international Jesus Ferreira. The Toros got their horns even deeper into the Galaxy’s side as Jáder Obrian tumbled the ball past Novak Micovic to make the scoreline 1-4 Dallas at the end of the first half.
The performance in the second half gave woefully little for home fans to cheer about. The most exciting moment beyond Raheem Edwards’s goal was the return of Galaxy’s Player of the Year, Riqui Puig. He replaced Diego Fagúndez in the 64th minute, despite still feeling discomfort in his ankle. While it is always a treat to watch the scintillating Spaniard, the three-goal deficit proved to be insurmountable for what remained of the squad. The final game of the season ended 1-4 for FC Dallas, who claimed the last play-in spot in the Western Conference.
The 2023 season was one that Los Angeles Galaxy hopes to quickly forget. This season saw the Galaxy concede 67 goals, as many as they have ever managed in club history. It is clear that plenty of changes are needed in the winter to prevent a repeat of the past campaign. With 10 contracts expiring this season the front office has plenty of decisions to make, and with that, the chance to give the club the refresh it constantly seems to need.
The first step towards the new era came almost immediately after the season ended. Shortly after his exit interview, Douglas Costa announced that his time in LA ended with his contract. After seven goals and 13 assists in 50 appearances and missing 17 matches through injury, Costa is now on the search for his next challenge. In his final interview as a G, the Brazilian cited how without the threat of relegation, he felt a previously unknown lack of pressure to perform at his highest level. This reads as an odd move for the free agent, whose value to buying clubs is at the very least precarious given his injury record. Telling the world that he is not always intrinsically motivated to try his best may be an ineffective sales pitch to executives who will want maximum effort and performance from a player who will surely demand top dollar.
With Javier Hernandez almost surely leaving the club this winter as well, the LA Galaxy suddenly find themselves with the ability to sign two designated players this season. The truth is, Greg Vanney and his team have been aware of this fact for a while now, and hopefully are now close to signing a couple of game-changers in the off-season.
One of Vanney’s biggest criticisms has been regarding his tendency to pick players who don’t meet the requirements for their roles. His nephew, Eriq Zavaleta, is the player fans point to first to support this idea. Even with the number of injuries the backline sustained this season, Zavelta never locked down a starting role or showed much that indicated that he is a defender worth trusting. Despite a lack of quality performances, it seems the Salvadoran international will continue to have a role to play in Vanney’s side for now.
Fortunately, Will Kuntz has already demonstrated his ability to spot talent and find players who can help overcome the deficiencies in Vanney’s team. This summer, the Galaxy signed Billy Sharp, Maya Yoshida, Diego Fagúndez, Edwin Cerillo, and Michael Barrios. With Kuntz’s direction, the blue-white-and-gold managed to make 5 signings who added crucial elements to the team while complying with the rules of the transfer ban. Considering that the goal was to sign players who could carry Los Angeles to the finish line without committing their future and breaking any more rules, this window may be considered a relative success.
With less MLS bureaucracy holding them back, Kuntz and Vanney have the opportunity to perform a dream rebuild. With 17 players who are on expiring contracts or are entering an option year, the front office has almost complete control of the direction of the club moving forward. For the moment, Vanney also counts on full support from the club’s decision-makers. With the restructuring that took place this season, Vanney has all the decision-making power on the football side of things. This means that for the first time since joining the Galaxy, Greg Vanney is finally entering the season without any external limitations that he can use as a crutch should they fail.
Vanney and the LA Galaxy have every chance to succeed in 2024, and there are many positive signs that indicate that they can create something special. However, much is still unwritten and it may be a fool’s errand to begin dreaming of lifting the MLS Cup next season. The coming off-season provides Vanney and the team plenty of opportunities to change things in Los Angeles for the better. With that also come opportunities to continue the Galaxy’s habit of mediocrity.
I am hopeful that next year will be very different, but it is up to the club’s decision-makers to show us exactly how different it will truly be. In the meantime, stay plugged in with Galaxy Nation for weekly articles and all the news and analysis in the off-season. Vamos Galaxy!
PHOTO: LA Galaxy