Alex Kozela has been a Galaxy fan since he was a child, so for him the team’s first home game has always been a rite of spring, a source of hope and expectation.
When the team returned to Dignity Health Sports Park for the first time in five months on Saturday, Kozela pushed through the afternoon traffic, found a parking space and walked to the stadium entrance as usual. Only this time he didn’t go in. Instead, he stood with a group of supporters and season ticket holders outside the stadium’s main gates to protest the team’s leadership.
“The club has lost sight of what is really important to the supporters, the fans and the community,” Kozela said. “We are here to support the team and give our money to the organization because we love this club. I have loved it since I was a child.”
It is a love, he said, that has become unrequited.
“There is a disconnect,” he said. “The results in the field have not been good. But neither are the results off the pitch. What is the vision? What is the plan for the next five years? What is the identity of the LA Galaxy?
“I would love to hear that from above. Because we haven’t gotten that in a long, long time.”
The fact that the Galaxy have been lost is not a secret. The team has lost more games than it has won in the last six seasons and has not played in an MLS Cup since 2014. So, as the club targets its record five league championships 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-winning side in 1998, acknowledged that when he returned as manager two years ago, saying he had been brought in “to get this club back to where people expect it to be.”
That journey is turning out to be longer and more arduous than expected.
Vanney, the fifth coach in seven seasons, has guided the Galaxy to consecutive winning seasons and a playoff berth since 2021, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Vancouver left the team winless in three games this season, its worst start. in 13 years.
The Galaxy (0-1-2) will improve. Designated Players Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, team captain and top scorer the past two seasons, and winger Douglas Costa missed the first three games through injury, while Brazilian right-back Lucas Calegari, replacement for two-time MLS star Julián Araujo still has to play a minute. At the same time, the agreement reported by the Argentine left-back Julián Aude has not materialized and the center-back Séga Coulibaly is attending to personal matters in France.
“We’re going through our phase of a couple of big injuries along with some guys that are still trying to break in and integrate into the group,” Vanney said. “It’s a process of continuing to improve each game and picking up points along the way.”
With nine of the 14 Western Conference teams qualifying for the playoffs, if the Galaxy can simply tarnish a mirror this fall, they should be in. And at full strength, the team is talented enough to go for a long run once it gets there.
But performance on the field is perhaps the simplest thing the Galaxy has to fix. Repairing the club’s relationship with its most loyal supporters could prove more difficult.
The team’s four main fan groups said they are boycotting home games until the Galaxy make some front-office changes, including firing club president Chris Klein, who signed a multi-year contract extension earlier this year. winter despite being suspended by the Major League. Football, penalty for team violation of budget and roster guidelines during the 2019 season.
It is too early to measure the impact of the boycott. According to a sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Saturday’s protest drew just 250 to 300 people, while in-stadium attendance was announced at 23,112, fourth-best in MLS last weekend.
However, that count was based on distributed tickets and not an actual turnstile count, a number the team did not disclose. (The team also questioned law enforcement’s estimate of the number of protesters.) Either way, it was the smallest turnout for a Galaxy home opener since 2013 and the Victoria Bloc, the normally raucous section of supporters in the North Stand, was nearly empty. so much so that Cozmo, the Galaxy’s furry blue mascot, spent much of the game punching billboards behind the baseline to break the silence.
“Despite the boycott, the stadium really looked packed,” said Cary Hall, a longtime season ticket holder. “The crowd was excited, it seemed. What was missing were the songs and the drums.”
AEG, Galaxy’s parent company, seems willing to wait out the boycott, knowing that firing Klein would be unwise for a couple of reasons. First because it would be construed as giving in to fan demands, and second because while Klein’s presidency has coincided with the franchise’s slide of perennial champions into mediocrity, he has been enormously successful on the commercial side, claiming to have broken records. franchise in sponsorship and ticket revenue last season.
That’s not to say that AEG isn’t worried. The Galaxy have long prided themselves on being the league’s model franchise, but that mantle recently passed to the team’s neighborhood rival LAFC, which won an MLS Cup and two Supporters’ Shields over a four-year span in the that the Galaxy won. only two playoff games.
“I work in youth soccer, and literally every kid will tell you who the Los Angeles soccer team is,” Kozela said. “They will say LAFC.”
If the Galaxy can’t beat LAFC, they can at least copy the team, recently luring Will Kuntz, the senior vice president of soccer operations and assistant general manager, away from LAFC. Kuntz, who is highly respected in MLS circles, said his role with the Galaxy remains a work in progress, though he could end up serving as a firewall between the president and the soccer side of the team. That would allow Klein to continue to grow revenue while he relieves him of responsibility, or blame, for what happens on the field.
The LAFC front office, which has co-chairs, is similarly set up with Larry Freedman in charge of business operations and John Thorrington in charge of sporting decisions.
Whether this turns out to be another attempt to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or something that will mend the Galaxy’s shattered reputation remains to be seen. Either way, the resistance already seems to be cracking.
“They have a credibility problem,” John, a longtime fan who gave only his first name, said defiantly as he stood among supporters who waved banners and chanted for Klein’s firing. “He has to go. He is the problem.
But when the protest ended and the banners were taken down, John said he planned to take his usual seat inside the stadium and cheer on the team, just like he did in the old days.