LA Galaxy falling behind MLS elite as LAFC and Toronto recruit the likes of Bale and Bernardeschi

Friday’s duel between LAFC and LA Galaxy (10 p.m. ET, live stream on ESPN) notes that the two teams occupy different ranks within the Major League Soccer hierarchy.

For the first half of the campaign, black and gold mostly did things their own way. LAFC sit at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings with 36 points from 18 games and have been so successful over that span that GM John Thorrington landed two luxury signings, so to speak, in veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini and star Welsh winger Gareth Bale .

At his unveiling, Chiellini displayed a false modesty when he said: “[LAFC] have fantastic defenders. Why did you call me?” as if a team couldn’t benefit from where it comes from (nine-time Serie A champions with Juventus, reigning European champions with the Azzurri) and experience (spent 18 years in Turin). There was a grain of truth in Chiellini’s assessment, however. Steve Cherundolo’s side have the second-best defensive record in MLS, conceding just 1.1 goals per game. His attack was also sharp, topping the league with 35 goals spread across a staggering 14 players, averaging 1.94 goals per game.

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Praise Thorrington for not getting complacent. The additions of Chiellini and Bale suggest one of the strongest teams in the league is getting stronger. Thorrington may not be finished either ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said LAFC could ‘roll the dice’ on former Manchester United striker Jesse Lingard – who is out of contract and in talks with two MLS clubs in the US, sources have told ESPN’s Rob Dawson – and Michele Giannone from TUDN The club could reportedly bring Cristian Arango up front.

The Galaxy’s season — not to mention their off-season acquisitions — has been more hit and miss. Thanks to the league’s fifth-best defense, LA sits fourth in the Western Conference, but it doesn’t have a grip on that spot: the Galaxy are just three points clear of eighth-place Minnesota United.

Of even more concern, while Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez largely lived up to his designated player tally with six goals, the team’s other two DPs, Douglas Costa and Kevin Cabral, have combined on a meager two goals and zero assists. It reinforces the refrain that top MLS teams need to produce their DPs near their maximum. With the likes of Victor Vazquez and Efrain Alvarez failing to fill the creative gap, it’s clear the Galaxy can’t be among the league’s elite just yet.

The Galaxy announced a signing of their own on Wednesday, announcing the takeover of former Parma midfielder Gaston Brugman. On the face of it, it’s underwhelming given the needs of the team going forward and Brugman’s talents do little to meet them. That feeling is amplified when you look around the league and see how teams are either being inventive or just using brute force in the market.

Inter Miami CF got creative when they acquired former league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo from Toronto FC for a source of $150,000 in grant funds from ESPN. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move for a team still feeling the effects of sanctions imposed by MLS for violating the league’s roster rules in 2020. If Pozuelo doesn’t work, Miami can tie the knot as his contract expires at the end of the season, which partly explains why he was available at such a low cost. If he excels, a new deal can certainly be struck.

Toronto have plundered the Italian market by taking on Lorenzo Insigne from Napoli, ex-Genoa captain Domenico Criscito and also reportedly Federico Bernardeschi after the 28-year-old’s contract with Juve expired. These are the kind of signings – star players with something left in the tank – that Galaxy used to make. And no, given his downward-sloping career and the circumstances in which he ended his loan spell at Gremio, Costa doesn’t fall into that category of falling out of favor with fans during a relegation-stricken campaign.

Other teams did their jobs in preseason. The Seattle Sounders brought in Albert Rusnak as a free agent. LAFC has also drained the free-agent market by signing former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez, and also acquired United States international Kellyn Acosta in a trade with Colorado and Vancouver goaltender Maxime Crepeau. The Galaxy has not been idle. They brought in the likes of Mark Delgado, Raheem Edwards and Vazquez, but LAFC have proven more adept at filling in the gaps in their lineup. This is a process in which the Galaxy is still very much involved.

Admittedly, not every movement has to cause a sensation. Players who do the dirty work can have a significant impact, and Brugman’s arrival feels more fundamental than the moves their Crosstown rivals recently completed. In a video accompanying the announcement, manager Greg Vanney spoke about how Brugman’s arrival will allow the likes of Delgado and Rayan Raveloson to continue playing up front. The hope is that the knock-on effect of Brugman’s arrival will boost the whole team’s attacking level, which has been decidedly average.

It’s also a signing that seems to have more of Vanney’s fingerprints, especially compared to the Costa acquisition. That might seem like an obvious progression for a manager in his second year at a club, but the Galaxy’s recent history shows that having that kind of control isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The mantra of Galaxy managers and GMs in recent years has been that the organization did not have the scouting and data analysis infrastructure to be consistently effective in the transfer market. Ex-manager Sigi Schmid said so. Former GM Dennis te Kloese said so. Vanney mentioned in an interview with The Athletic two months ago that the process is still ongoing. It suggests that the organizational dysfunction that has plagued the Galaxy organization since Bruce Arena’s departure in 2016 has not been fully resolved.

If Brugman succeeds, his humble background – he spent last season in Spain’s second division with Real Oviedo – would stand as a sign that the Galaxy have done their homework, at least in this case. But it also seems a bit far-fetched to rely on Delgado and Raveloson to fuel the attack, despite the latter scoring twice in last weekend’s 4-0 win against CF Montreal. Both are solid players, but both performers’ histories don’t suggest they’re consistent opportunity creators, which is what Chicharito needs to really excel.

Friday’s game is just one in a long season. As with most derbies, current form matters little but LAFC’s long-term prospects look brighter as they put some distance between themselves and their rivals. LA Galaxy falling behind MLS elite as LAFC and Toronto recruit the likes of Bale and Bernardeschi

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