To Be Curt: Onalfo Out

A 3-0 defeat at home to the Seattle Sounders is brutal at the best of times. When it comes as a result of decisions that were identified as “bad” in February, it’s exponentially more crushing.

As goal after goal sailed into the Los Angeles Galaxy net, it had the surreal quality of a lucid nightmare.  It was like seeing a man standing on a railroad track.  The train is going to arrive in five minutes and there’s ample time to shout out a warning or shove him out of harm’s way, if only you weren’t paralyzed to the spot and your cries weren’t coming out silent.

When the inevitable, gory impact comes, you’re left with a crushing blend of horror, helplessness and frustration.  It didn’t have to be this way.

While the dreamer in this analogy is the collection of fans and critics that openly asked why the club seemed so cavalier about casting aside much of their depth, why they were so confident that a youth team no more than adequate at the USL level would be ample cover, or how much the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in California had to do with Onalfo’s nonchalant statement that Dave Romney could play “anywhere in defence”, it could also be an analogy for Brian Rowe in this game.

The poor guy wasn’t really at fault for any of the goals.  It was just another bad day in a season in which fate seems to have turned on him.

After the opening game, Curt dropped him with little justification in favour of Clement Diop.  The explanation given was that the coach wanted to create competition between the two.

Awesome, Curt.  Thrust a fairly gifted but flawed, green rookie into the fray, where his inevitable mistakes can rock his confidence, while last seasons Number One has his own rocked by the clear knowledge that his coach doesn’t have that much belief in him.

The scary thing for me, is that the issues I identified here have only been added to since the season began.

The Galaxy currently has a record of five losses and two wins, the latter coming against unimpressive Real Salt Lake and Montreal Impact sides, that had both been reduced to ten men.

As predicted, the defence has proven to be more shallow than a puddle in a teaspoon.  Our alleged defensive Swiss Army Knife, Romney, has started just two games – his last over a month ago – and his two subsequent substitute appearances both came after the 80th minute mark.  This is despite the Galaxy’s only other recognized right backs being converted defensive midfielder Rafael Garcia and Nathan Smith, a 22 year old fullback who had not made a senior appearance before this season.  An AJ DeLaGarza replacement he is not.

I recently claimed of Jermaine Jones that he has the positional discipline of a Missionary that has just been introduced to the Karma Sutra.  It turns out that Joao Pedro has the positional awareness of the Mars Climate Orbiter.

I’m not sure why the Galaxy signed him, let alone for the reported $1.25m.  I’m hoping there’s more to him than we’ve seen because he’s currently a mass of flaws.

He routinely fails to move into open space when a teammate is looking for an outlet.  He has a tendency to drop back so much, that he’s sometimes in danger of sitting on the Goalie’s lap.  His passing decisions are bizarre.  I’m convinced that he could be at the opposition’s byline and he’d still consider kicking the ball back to his ‘keeper.  His tendency to pass the ball predominantly backwards or sideways wouldn’t be so bad if he did it sensibly.  However, I’ve seen him do it a number of times when the intended recipient has an opponent on top of him.  When he’s passing to a defender, that’s bad, when it’s the goalkeeper, it’s baffling.  Rarely has the “safe option” been used so dangerously.

One thing’s for sure, I’m completely off my teams signing midfielders with big Afros for a while.

Daniel Steres was serviceable but flawed last season.  He got a lot of benefit of the doubt given that he’s a relative rookie but he was always going to need to progress this season if he were to be a viable center back starter.  The fact that I’m lamenting the trade of Leonardo at this point, says a lot.  Aside from “Omnidefender” Romney, there’s little beyond the starting back two and Steres hasn’t shown much progress.  In fact, with the B-of-D now well and truly spent, so too are the caveats: he’s looking poor.

Last season I championed Giovani Dos Santos as the player to build the club around.  His form had been hit-and-miss in his first 18 months with the club, but he certainly performed much better last season, on the occasions that Robbie Keane was absent.  Based on this, I felt that a line-up tailored to his strengths would give him a platform to succeed.  I may well have been wrong in my assessment.

There’s no doubt that Gio has ample technical ability.  However, if he fails with the Galaxy, he will have built a track record as a frustrating and inconsistent player.

I’ll give him his due: against Seattle, it did seem in the second half that he wanted to make things happen, popping up all over the pitch, trying all he could to make some kind of breakthrough.  Unfortunately, that same 45 minutes saw him knock the ball over from 18 yards, with the Stefan Frei sprawling on the flaw after colliding with his own defender and the goal vacant.  It then saw him botch some kind of skill trick, that saw him kick his own feet from under him, going airborn and leaving the ball behind for his grateful (and probably very amused) marker to retrieve.

Credit for one half of overt effort aside, Gio has largely been anonymous this season.  He has been dealing with some knocks apparently, so hopefully he’s trying to shake those off, but memories of other failed seasons and false dawns throughout his career have me very concerned.

Of the few positives this season, it seems that Romain Alessandrini is a good pick-up after all.  Three goals and two assists so far this season, and plenty of skill, things are looking promising.  Unfortunately, like most wingers of his ilk, he’s not the best defender.  That means (you guessed it) he needs solid cover on his right flank in the form of a capable fullback.  I refer you back to the AJ trade, Garcia conversion, Smith baptism of fire and Romney ‘dynamism’.

The other minor high spot has been the steady progress of winger Emmanuel Boateng.

Gyasi Zardes is battling back but he is more of a role player than somebody to drag the team up by its bootstraps.  He also has flaws of his own: a fine supplement to a strong front line, but not a focal point.

There was a sequence in yesterday’s game where he and Jermaine Jones conspired to collide with and fall over each other, in a scene that would have been cut out of a Harold Lloyd picture for being too zany.

I could be more pragmatic though, more hopeful, if only I felt like there was some cohesion or strategy being deployed.  Frankly, I feel completely the opposite.

There have now been multiple games this season where I’m at a loss to identify the tactical approach that the team is attempting.  Worse still, there have been multiple times that I can’t even pick out what roles or positions the players are in.

When I look out at the field and see Alessandrini in the middle, just behind Jones, while Gio receives the ball in the right back zone of the pitch and Jelle Van Damme sprints forward, the opposite flank absent of Galaxy players, I’m at a loss to describe it in any analytical sense.

This is most damning of all to me.  I don’t know if the players aren’t following instructions, don’t understand them, or if this weird random huddle is actually the execution of something Onalfo is asking for, but in any case it looks completely inept.

Either Onalfo has already lost the team and they’re abandoning his plans and playing as a collection of indviduals in “hero mode”, or his tactical approach is simply awful.  Both situations are horrendous.

I know seven (7) games into a season seems quick to be calling for a coach’s head but my feeling, and the one I get from the Galaxy faithful, is that the poor guy should never have been there in the first place.  His prior MLS record was poor and the only saving grace was the possibility that he’d learned and grown during his time assisting Bruce Arena and running the reserves.

As it is, I regret to say, I suspect that he (and perhaps General Manager Pete Vagenas) have been promoted beyond his ability.


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