Galaxy given stiff ultimatum
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The soap opera that is the Los Angeles Galaxy just gets weirder and weirder.
A source close to Major League Soccer's glamour franchise tells me that Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy, made an unannounced visit to the team's locker room this past week and issued a grim ultimatum: Get things on the right track in the next two weeks or there will be dire consequences.
Like what kinds of consequences? Canning head coach Ruud Gullit? Cleaning house, perhaps starting with Landon Donovan? Firing team president and GM Alexi Lalas?
If I were a betting man, I'd say all three are possibilities, in increasing order of their likelihood. Leiweke rarely appears in front of the team, but when he does, the aftermath is never good. The AEG boss last addressed the Galaxy collectively last September as the team was similarly struggling, and within two months, former head coach Frank Yallop was out the door.
After L.A.'s 3-2 loss to expansion San Jose on Sunday, the Galaxy are winless in seven straight games, dropping them to fourth place in the Western Conference with a 6-8-5 record. If the playoffs were to start today, they'd be in serious danger of missing the postseason for the third consecutive year. And despite the star power of David Beckham and Donovan -- who, along with striker Edson Buddle, have helped the team to a league-best 2.00 goals per game -- the defense is just awful: The Galaxy are dead-last in MLS in goals allowed per game at 2.11.
And the reports of unrest keep getting worse and worse as more details emerge about the state of dysfunction within the Galaxy. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the finger-pointing has reached critical mass: Gullit and Lalas reportedly don't get along and the Beckham camp is quickly calling more of the shots within the organization. (For their part, the Galaxy declined to comment.)
The only man who has guaranteed safety is, not surprisingly, Beckham. But there's plenty of blame to go around.
Lalas and Gullit? They've both made their fair share of bad trades and roster moves, but to pin the team's woes on either one of them individually is irresponsible.
Donovan? Rumors have surfaced over the past couple weeks that he'd like another shot with a European club, preferably one in England. With his $900,000 salary for the 2008 season burning a hole through the Galaxy's cap space ($400,000 of his paycheck counts against the roughly $2.3 million limit), it'd be easy to make him an unfortunate fall guy.
The Beckham camp? It has certainly seized an inordinate amount of power within the organization, but to blame the struggles on the very reason MLS is now a known quantity internationally is short-sighted and ignores the bigger picture.
Leiweke and AEG? It's not exactly helpful when the big boss barks an unreasonable ultimatum -- especially when the team has been, to a degree, overachieving when you look at the personnel on hand. But when the boss wants results, the boss is entitled to results.
This much is clear: The Galaxy in their current form are not good enough to win the MLS Cup. Leiweke and his boss, Phil Anschutz, the godfather of MLS, have made it clear that they demand yearly excellence from the Galaxy, and the team is nowhere near it. And at the end of the day, the buck stops with AEG.
Keep watching, because the dysfunction may get worse before it gets better.
Speaking of those defensive woes, Gullit told me the team is considering bringing in U.S. national-teamer Cory Gibbs, whom The Washington Post's Steven Goff learned is interested in returning to MLS from Charlton Athletic of England's second division.
"We are thinking about it," Gullit said. "He is a good option."
The Galaxy would have first dibs on Gibbs' rights if he indeed decides to come home. The 28-year-old center back hasn't been fully healthy in more than two years, but if his knee holds up, he could be an enormous boost for the Galaxy back line.
If you want a new European MLS star to hang your hat on, look no further than English veteran Darren Huckerby, who played in his third game for San Jose on Sunday. The 32-year-old scored his second goal for the Quakes in as many games, and looks like he hasn't lost a step since joining MLS last month from Norwich City. Even Beckham likes him.
"He causes any team problems," Beckham said. "I've seen that in the past when I played for Manchester United and he was at Coventry. He's a player with quality and he's going to score a lot of goals."