Why some of the Galaxy’s loudest supporters are demanding changes
Alex Kozela has been a Galaxy fan since childhood, so the team’s home game has always been a springtime rite, a source of hope and anticipation for him.
As the team returned to Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday for the first time in five months, Kozela fought through the afternoon traffic, found a parking space, and made his usual way to the stadium entrance. Only this time he didn’t go in. Instead, he stood outside the stadium’s main gate with a group of fans and season ticket holders to protest the team’s direction.
“The club has lost sight of what really matters to the fans, the supporters and the community,” said Kozela. “We are here to support the team and give our money to the organization because we love this club. I’ve loved it since I was a kid.”
It’s a love, he said, that’s unrequited.
“There’s a break,” he said. “The results on the field were not good. But neither are the results off the field. What is the vision? What is the plan for the next five years? What is the identity of the LA Galaxy?
“I would like to know that from above. Because we haven’t had that for a long time.”
The fact that the Galaxy got lost is no secret. The team has lost more games than they have won in the last six seasons and have not played for an MLS Cup since 2014. So when the club point to their record five league titles and nine cup final appearances, it feels more like a history lesson than a contemporary experience.
Even Greg Vanney, who played on the team’s first trophy team in 1998, admitted that when he returned as manager two years ago he had been hired “to get this club back to where people expect it to be”.
This journey turns out to be longer and more arduous than expected.
Vanney, the fifth manager in seven seasons, has led the Galaxy to back-to-back wins and a playoff berth since 2021, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Vancouver left the team winless in three games this season, their worst start for 13 years.
The galaxy (0-1-2) is getting better. Players designated Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the team’s captain and top scorer for the last two seasons, and winger Douglas Costa missed the first three games through injury, while Brazilian right-back Lucas Calegari, the replacement for two-time MLS All-Star Julián Araujo, is , has one more minute to play. At the same time, the reported deal for Argentina left-back Julián Aude has not been finalized and centre-back Séga Coulibaly is handling personal matters in France.
“We’re going through our phase with some big injuries right now, along with some guys that we’re still trying to get in the doors and integrate into the group,” Vanney said. “It’s a process where you get better from game to game and get points along the way.”
With nine of the 14 Western Conference teams qualifying for the playoffs, they should be there if the Galaxy can easily fog a mirror this fall. And at full strength, the team is talented enough to make a long run once they get there.
But on-field performance is perhaps the simplest thing the Galaxy needs to fix. Improving the club’s relationship with its most loyal supporters could prove more difficult.
The team’s four main supporters groups said they are boycotting home games until the Galaxy makes some front office changes, chief among them being the sacking of club president Chris Klein, who was signed to a multi-year contract extension this winter despite a suspension from major league football, Penalty for the team’s violation of budget and roster guidelines during the 2019 season.
It is far too early to gauge the impact of the boycott. Saturday’s protest drew just 250 to 300 people, according to a sergeant with the LA County Sheriff’s Department, while attendance at the stadium was announced at 23,112, the fourth-highest in the MLS last weekend.
However, that count was based on tickets distributed rather than the actual number of turnstiles, a number the team did not disclose. (The team also disputed law enforcement’s estimate of the number of protesters.) In any case, it was the smallest turnout at a Galaxy Home Opener since 2013, and the Victoria Block, the normally noisy supporter’s area in the North Stand, was mostly empty — so much so that Cozmo, the Galaxy’s furry blue mascot, spent much of the game banging on billboards behind the end line to break the silence.
“Despite the boycott, the stadium looked really busy,” said Cary Hall, a longtime season ticket holder. “The audience was enthralled, it seemed. What was missing was the singing and the drums.”
AEG, Galaxy’s parent company, appears willing to wait out the boycott, recognizing that firing Klein would be unwise for a number of reasons. First, because it would be interpreted as bowing to supporters’ demands, and second, because while Klein’s presidency coincided with the franchise’s slide from eternal champions to mediocrity, he was tremendously successful on the business side, claiming to be franchise Having broken records for sponsorship and gate receipts last season.
That’s not to say AEG isn’t affected. The Galaxy has long prided itself on being the league’s flagship franchise, but that mantle was recently handed over to LAFC, the team’s neighborhood rivals who, in a four-year span in which the Galaxy have won an MLS Cup and Two Supporters’ Shields has only won two playoff games.
“I work in youth soccer and literally any kid will tell you who the soccer team is in LA,” Kozela said. “They will say LAFC.”
If the galaxy can’t beat LAFC, they can at least copy the team that recently lured senior vice president of soccer operations and assistant general manager Will Kuntz away from LAFC. Kuntz, who is highly regarded in MLS circles, said his role at Galaxy is a work in progress, although he could end up serving as a firewall between the president and the team’s football squad. That would allow Klein to keep growing revenue while relieving him of responsibility – or blame – for what happens on the field.
LAFC’s front office, which has co-presidents, is structured similarly, with Larry Freedman responsible for business operations and John Thorrington for sporting decisions.
Whether this is another attempt to rearrange the deckchairs on Titanic or something that will mend the galaxy’s shattered reputation remains to be seen. Either way, the resistance already seems to be breaking.
“They have a credibility problem,” said John, a longtime fan who used only his first name, defiantly as he stood among supporters, waving banners and chanting calls for Klein’s sacking. “He has to go. He’s the problem.”
But when the protest ended and banners were carried away, John said he plans to take his regular seat at the stadium and cheer for the team like he did in the good old days.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2023-03-21/whats-wrong-with-galaxy-mls Why some of the Galaxy’s loudest supporters are demanding changes