For all the viral highlight videos, headline grabbing quotes and third-person comparisons to large cats, when the dust settled after 34 matches the table told a different story for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Needing a win at home against the lowly Houston Dynamo to secure the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Galaxy blew a 2-0 halftime lead to lose 3-2 with two Mauro Manotas goals in the space of six minutes providing the killer blows.
For the second straight year, LA failed to qualify for the playoffs as the club continues to try and climb out of the hole left after the Bruce Arena, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan era.
The team improved on 2017’s abysmal 11th place finish in the West and 32-point haul, but in context this failure will sting for most of the offseason. This year was supposed to be the year the league’s most successful franchise got back on track. Proven winner Sigi Schmid was at the helm, aging European star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ready to put the team back on the map, and rebuilt defense that would return stability to a club in chaos. All this was supposed to keep the Galaxy in the spotlight despite the noisy neighbors of Los Angeles FC poised to take their place as the number one team in the city.
In reality, the season became a roller coaster of multi-goal thrillers with Ibrahimovic needed to provide herculean performances to make up for one of the worst defenses in the league. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes and Minnesota United leaked more than LA.
Schmid also never seemed to find the right balance in attacking talent and defensive organization. The trade for forward Ola Kamara in conjunction with the Ibrahimovic signing proved a selection dilemma when combined with finding room for Romain Alessandrini, Sebastian Lletget and the Dos Santos brothers.
Despite all of that, it looked like shear talent might sneak the Galaxy in even after Schmid stepped down in September and was replaced by assistant, and long-time head coach Dominic Kinnear. Kinnear seemed to stabilize the team in the final month of the season. They conceded only two goals in their last four games heading into Sunday’s match with Houston, but they failed to keep the Dynamo down and it cost them a playoff spot in the end.
The defense returned to form right at the wrong time leaving the organization with big questions heading into the winter. The search for Bruce Arena’s long-term replacement continues with Kinnear not likely to be offered the job. Ibrahimovic has one year left on his contract, but the futures of their Designated Players such as Giovani Dos Santos may be in doubt after a poor season. Finally, and maybe most critically for the future of the Galaxy, where is the next batch of young talent going to come from? Galaxy II has failed to produce any real first-team contributors and with the likes of New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas relying on their youth systems to build rosters, LA seems to be stuck in the past when it comes to building a squad.
LA may have missed the playoffs by just one point, but the gap to returning to former glory is much larger than that.