Looking back: The LA Galaxy's 2016 Season

Luis Baron

locker room

    2016 was a year to forget for the LA Galaxy and it’s fans.  Ironic, considering that 2016 was supposed to be the year the Galaxy won every trophy they played for.  Alas, this was not the case and the Galaxy came away empty handed with 0 trophies won and finished with a lineup very different than the one that started at the beginning of the season.  Yes, this was arguably one of the worst, if not the worst year and season in Galaxy history.  

    The season started so promising.  After failing to win MLS Cup in 2015, the Galaxy looked to bounce back in 2016 with some heavy reinforcements picked up in the off season.  Boy, did they deliver.  Looking to improve their defense, which was labeled soft the year before, the Galaxy signed defenders Jelle van Damme and Ashley Cole along with defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong.  With superstars Robbie Keane, Giovanni dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes and Steven Gerrard already in the lineup, this was supposed to be the greatest team ever assembled in MLS history.  The Galaxy also added some much needed depth to their roster that was highly dependent on their starters to be healthy. Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz, Ema Boateng and Dan Kennedy were all signed to provide that depth. This team was now ready to take on every team that they faced. Winning MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, and US Open Cup was now a strong possibility.  They were now also ready to compete for the coveted Concacaf Champions League trophy that has eluded MLS teams in the past.  

    Many people believed that this Galaxy team was built to win the CCL.  Who could blame them?  There was a lot of world class talent and soccer IQ on the pitch.  This team was surely able to compete against the Liga MX teams that have dominated this tournament.  Things didn’t quite go according to plan.  After a scoreless tie in the first game, the Galaxy were run off the field by Santos Laguna in Torreon by a 4-0 margin in the 2nd leg which easily could’ve been more lopsided.  Eliminated in the quarterfinals, the dream of being the first MLS team to win the CCL would have to wait at least 2 more seasons.  

    The bad taste that was left after such an embarrassing and disappointing exit in the CCL would undoubtedly be washed away if the Galaxy were to win MLS Cup.  After all, winning MLS cup heals all wounds suffered through a season and would make the CCL a distant memory.  The talent that they had on the field made the Galaxy heavy favorites to accomplish that goal.  

    Through the first 11 games of the MLS season, the Galaxy suffered only 1 defeat, which came from a last second goal at the hands of Colorado. It would take nearly 3 months before the Galaxy were beaten again.  Many fans were oblivious to this fact for some reason.  Maybe it was the lack of flair the team displayed on the field during the beginning of the season, or perhaps it was the fact that the team had as many ties as they did wins and some of those ties felt like losses.  This wasn’t the team most people expected.  Sure, the Galaxy weren’t losing games, but they weren’t winning as much as people expected and they certainly were not dominating teams either.  The Galaxy were an ordinary and average MLS team.  

    It wasn’t until July that the team everyone was hoping for decided to show up.  The Galaxy were playing beautiful soccer, passing with precision, picking apart defenses and imposing their will against the opposition.  They would only allow 1 goal the entire month.  This was also the month they would reach the semifinals of the US Open Cup after defeating their hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders and gain closer to Dallas in the Supporters Shield race.  Yes, the Galaxy were flying high, and the idea of winning all 3 trophies was more than just feasible, it was all but a certainty.  Then came August.  

    August was the beginning of the end for the Galaxy.  They would go winless in the month and get eliminated from the US Open Cup after allowing 2 goals in the final 4 minutes of extra time.  After July, the Galaxy would only win 3 more regular season games, which came at the hands of teams that failed to make the playoffs.  The Supporters Shield was now also lost.  The season was unraveling in more ways than one.  During the month of September, speculation arose that the locker room was in disarray, causing the team’s poor performance on the field.  Defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong was shipped off to Turkey to join Galatasaray and left a huge void in the midfield.  Head Coach Bruce Arena needed to do something to get this ship back on track.  He relied on an old hero in Landon Donovan, who came out of retirement and was resigned for the remainder of the season.  If anything, Donovan was called upon for a morale boost.  However, with a season ending injury to Gyasi Zardes, and with Steven Gerrard and team captain Robbie Keane on the bench to start the playoffs, Donovan was expected to put the team on his shoulders and lead them to victory as we had seen several times during his career.  The morale boost would last for one round of the playoffs before falling in the Western Conference semifinals to Colorado.  

    The team that ended the season looked nothing like the team that started it.  2 DP’s on the bench, a world class player leaving after only 6 months, injuries, and a broken locker room was all the Galaxy had to show off at season’s end.  To make matters worse, the Galaxy lost Bruce Arena, their head coach and general manager, after being appointed head coach of the US National Team after the firing of Jurgen KIinsmann.  

    With everything that happened this year, it’s hard to argue that the Galaxy had the worst season in their history.  Yes, the Galaxy failed to make the playoffs for 3 years from 2006-2008, but with the high expections, star-studded lineup, legendary coach, and not being able to reach any of the goals they set out to accomplish, this had to be the bigger failure. The Galaxy are always in contention for trophies and 2006-2008 was no exception, but 2016 was more than just being in contention, it was a foregone conclusion that we would walk away with 4 trophies uncontested.  Having won 0 at the end of the season, made this season significantly worse than any other.   2016 is certainly a year that fans want to forget and wish never had happened.  Let’s not forget, the end of 2016 was marked by the Seattle Sounders winning their first MLS Cup.      

Not everything went wrong for the Galaxy in 2016 though.  First year defender Jelle van Damme turned out to be the Galaxy’s best player and became a fan favorite overnight.  Giovanni dos Santos emerged as the team MVP (as voted by the fans) and turned into the player fans were hoping he would be when he was signed.  Going into 2017, the Galaxy will be built around these 2 players.  With 2 DP spots and extra TAM at their disposal, they have many options to do it.  2017 will have the feel of an entirely new team and going in a different direction, and that’s a good thing.  Perhaps a clean slate, a new attitude, and a new coach in Curt Onalfo is all the Galaxy need to regain their mystique of being an MLS elite.