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Aug 11, 2008

Galaxy circus continues with shake-up

We really should have seen this coming. The hot-red flashing "alert" sign was there.

It came when Tim Leiweke, president of Galaxy ownership conglomerate AEG, stormed through the Galaxy locker room two weeks ago, glowering, huffing, puffing and issuing ultimatums. Get it right or get lost, essentially.

No matter the sport, no matter the country, whenever a GM, owner or someone in a $2,000 suit addresses the locker room, spewing spittle and threats, you can be sure some real, honest-to-goodness, knee-slapping nincompoopery is not far away.

Sure enough, the bungling continues. The circus roars forth. The Los Angeles Galaxy looks more and more like an SNL sketch every day.

Scribes throughout Southern California are rushing to online thesaurus sites, desperate to identify new adjectives to describe the madcap, Keystone Cop-type zaniness that presides over the Home Depot Center like so much gunky air over Beijing.

Against all odds, the fiasco factor keeps escalating on Planet Galaxy. Just when you think the gang that couldn't shoot straight might get the sights adjusted properly, queue the Benny Hill music and start the wacky chase scene all over again.

The two most public figures in the never-ending Galaxy goofiness, general manager Alexi Lalas and manager Ruud Gullit, have been purged, creating ample room for the next round of material that will keep soccer writers steadily employed.

Gullit, on contract for three years, was on the job about seven months, depending when you want to peg his start date. Remember, this was a guy who was hired in November 2007 but didn't move here from Holland until January -- after the MLS draft, which he curiously declined to attend.

Honestly, they just can't get anything right out there. The team is a mess, hobbling along on a seven-game winless streak. The field is little better than a good dog track. They built a roster with about five legitimate pro soccer players and a bunch of guys who might or might not catch on in USL next year.

But, hey, David Beckham looks great on the cover of Men's Health this month! (His handlers might be rooting around in places they don't belong, but the performance, attitude and resolve of Beckham and Landon Donovan are the only good things going in L.A. right now.)

In its officially silly official statement on Black Monday along Victoria Street, AEG allowed that Gullit resigned "for personal reasons." As for Lalas, his contract was up at the end of the year anyway, and the team decided to divest now rather than wait.

But why the dog and pony show? Why the pretense?

Things looked OK in May and June, when an overwhelming attack generally could mitigate a horrible defense. But things went further south, so why not just say it? "We goofed. Against all evidence that suggested American coaches were the way to go, we went our own way once again, took the splashy choice, and it didn't work out. Now we're going to put things right."

It could be true that Gullit wasn't enamored with L.A. He did seem disenchanted with the byzantine ways of MLS. He lamented the lack of consistency and the inability to create consistent training patterns.

"Everything that seems logical isn't done," he said a few weeks ago of the league. He found efforts at scouting perplexing, if not downright exasperating. He laughed and raised his arms in comical, "Who knew?" fashion when discussing how teams and individuals could perform so differently week to week.

Still, we can surmise that if everything were sunny in SoCal, Gullit would have found the whole enterprise more manageable. The organization bears some responsibility for not properly vetting the hire -- and for possibly allowing the wrong people to influence the decision.

If there's a single brain cell working at the HDC today, nobody from 19 Entertainment, Beckham's management group, will get so much as a shot glass full of input in the new GM and coaching hire.

Still, I wouldn't go rushing to Vegas to bet money that it won't happen.

And what about Abel Xavier, who looked and sometimes acted crazy as a barn rat, and who left Los Angeles last month lobbing verbal grenades at Gullit and the organization? Now, you have to ask whether he was right.

Ownership seems now to agree with "X" about Gullit and Lalas. So maybe Xavier can coach the team. Or Tom Cruise. Or the next American Idol! Just turn it into a bit. It's not far from one as it is.

For now, the coaching will be up to Cobi Jones, a fellow who has exactly eight months of managerial experience -- and that under a fellow who never could make peace with MLS culture.

At some point, Leiweke should man up and accept some responsibility. He sets the tone as the club sings the tune of entitlement. They don't want to work for it in L.A., they want it to happen magically, because they think they deserve it.

Leiweke fired Sigi Schmid in 2004 as the Galaxy sat atop the league -- but apparently weren't kicking teams up and down Victoria Street with sufficient arrogant sexiness. The Galaxy record since then: a joyless 41-47-27.

Out went Schmid and in came Steve Sampson, who did capture an MLS title over a deflated playoff field. Soon enough, he was gone, too. In the meantime, Leiweke hired Lalas, a well-liked figure and a bright face despite a splotchy record in GM stops at San Jose and New York.

Leiweke did help orchestrate the Beckham deal, so put that in the AEG win column. But that was bungled quickly, too, as Beckham felt pressure to get on the field too early, re-injuring himself and leaving the rest of the team to cope with that ridiculous, exploitative, exhausting schedule.

As for Gullit, who couldn't see this coming? Foreign coaches generally don't prosper in MLS. "The decision to appoint Ruud Gullit has the faint, unpleasant odor of yet another flimsy decision, the latest stop on the Galaxy half-baked express. … This looks like a reach, an act consummated for all the wrong reasons, more about Planet Hollywood flourish than rational consideration."

That's what I wrote in November. And if a bunch of unwashed journalists could figure it out, you'd think someone at AEG could.

But that's the world on Planet Galaxy, where entertainment magnate Simon Fuller shows up to team news conferences, where sexy foreign soccer luminaries who think the Houston Dynamo is a drain cleaner and that the MLS draft is a steady breeze off the Pacific are named manager, where guys in suits go roach stomping through locker rooms demanding "Be better!"

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.

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