Editorial (December 20, 2017) – The LA Galaxy are actively revamping their roster during the 2017-18 MLS off-season. They’ve signed a new center and outside back. They’re coming close to signing a starting goalkeeper. Head Coach Sigi Schmid is also actively looking for a striker. But in this brave new world of MLS 3.0, are we sure Sigi Schmid et al. can construct an MLS Cup contender?
Can Sigi Schmid Build a Team in MLS 3.0?
The Galaxy had a terrible 2017 season rooted in poor roster management and coaching. Schmid was appointed Head Coach mid-season and has since taken the reigns over to try and get the club back on track for 2018. The youth movement has been abandoned, but there are still some big picture restrictions: LA still appear to still be in cost-cutting mode (or at least cost-conscious). The club also has all three Designated Player spots taken, including by the Dos Santos brothers who have yet to prove their on-field value as DPs.
Peter Vagenas has been removed as General Manager. Schmid has since hired experienced people around him, including Dominic Kinnear and his son, Kurt Schmid. That said, Sigi has yet to overhaul a roster in MLS 3.0, which could be a concern.
The First Time Around With the Galaxy (1999-2005):
Sigi started coaching in MLS with the LA Galaxy in 1999. That was very much the MLS 1.0 days of the league. The Designated Player Rule wouldn’t be invented for eight years. Budgets were tight and most of the players weren’t making much money.
Front offices still had work to do. They had to select the right domestic talent and find the occasional valuable (and economical) CONCACAF-based player or aging European. Sigi was able to get the Galaxy over the hump and win the 2002 MLS Cup. That said, teams didn’t universally have a General Manager position with full scouting departments at that time. Most of the crazy rules that complicate building a team in MLS these days were also not around.
Proving Himself With Columbus Crew (2006-08):
Sigi returned to MLS in 2006 with Columbus Crew. He worked hand-in-hand with GM Mark McCullers to pick much of the roster, including the recently retired Robbie Rogers as well as longtime Seattle Sounder Brad Evans. Sigi took over the club as MLS was transitioning from 1.0 to 2.0. David Beckham came to the Galaxy during this period. Expansion and stadium construction were normalized.
The Crew won MLS Cup in 2008. They had historically been one of the more thrifty teams in MLS and very much won MLS Cup by getting value out of the money they spent. At the end of the 2008 season, Schmid (now a proven MLS commodity) turned down a contract extension from Columbus to coach with expansion side Seattle Sounders FC.
Consistency but no Cups in Seattle (2009-2016):
Sigi’s time in Seattle will always be bittersweet. He helped construct one of the most consistent teams in MLS. They made the playoffs every year he was there. They won a bunch of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups and a Supporters’ Shield. But they never won MLS Cup under his stead, until they fired him mid-season.
Still, there’s a lot on his resume from his time in Seattle that is encouraging. He brought along his son Kurt in 2009. Kurt rose from an assistant coach all the way to Director of Player Personnel, a similar role to what he has now with the Galaxy. Even if Kurt is just a puppet for his dad, they were a combination that produced results in Seattle during MLS 2.0.
This was the first coaching job where Sigi had a big budget compared to the rest of the league. They almost always had three DPs. They brought in Clint Dempsey later in Sigi’s tenure. Whatever Sigi needed to ensure the team won, Sigi got from ownership. In the later part of his time there, the club hired Garth Lagerway, who’s regarded as one of the best front office personnel in the league.
Sigi had all the resources available to him that MLS allowed at Seattle. He won a lot of games. Short of an MLS Cup, he did everything with the Sounders.
What This all Means for 2018:
The fact is, Sigi no longer is operating with superior resources compared to his competition. The Galaxy probably won’t have the largest budget in the Western Conference next year. Unless they can get good value in a transfer deal, they’re probably locked in on all three DPs (two of whom have yet to prove themselves in MLS). That’s unlike his time in Seattle where they always three productive and big money DPs (other than Freddy Montero and Obafemi Martins being unable to score in the playoffs).
We’ve also yet to see Sigi Schmid build a team since the invention of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). TAM has shifted and leveled the playing field in many ways. It’s helping budget teams catch up to the big spenders. We still haven’t seen the full extent of its usage and value. Having three multi-million DPs isn’t the advantage it was in MLS 2.0.
Furthermore, Sigi no longer has a forward-thinking GM like Lagerway. He’s got his son and they have a proven track record. Kinnear is one of the most shrewd operators in MLS history and right now the most experienced assistant in the league. But he’s from the old guard, and was a bit too MLS 1.0 in his final days coaching the San Jose Earthquakes.
In House Limitations and the Bruce Arena Comparison:
At the end of the day, Sigi has to work with Chris Klein and Pete Vagenas. There were some big questions surrounding those two once Bruce Arena left: How much of the front office decisions were made by Arena as appose to them? How much did they learn from Arena while he was here? Could they function as the all-knowing and rule-manipulating Galaxy without him?
Based on 2017, Arena was the brains of the operation. They didn’t learn enough from him and failed miserably in his absence. The question is then whether Sigi can fill the void Arena left or not. Arena was a better GM than a coach if you ask me, where Sigi is the opposite. Bruce knew the MLS rules and regulations better than anyone.
That helped him beat Sigi head-to-head and win MLS Cups. Sigi is going to have to improve in those areas and anticipate the complexities of TAM on the fly. They’ve still got to find a way to make Giovani dos Santos a productive DP No. 10 in MLS. If Sigi and Kurt can do that, the Galaxy will be a playoff team in 2018.