CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy are running out of time to save their season, so they’ve brought back a familiar face to lead their playoff charge.
The Galaxy fired coach Curt Onalfo on Thursday just 20 games into his first season and re-hired veteran coach Sigi Schmid to run the struggling MLS powerhouse.
A few hours after their coaching change, the Galaxy also signed Mexican midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos as their third designated player. Dos Santos leaves Villarreal of Spain’s La Liga to join his brother, Galaxy star Giovani Dos Santos.
The moves indicate President Chris Klein’s desire for urgent improvement by the Galaxy (6-10-4), who sit ninth in the 11-team Western Conference after losing six consecutive games across all competitions in July, including an embarrassing 4-3 loss to New England last weekend.
With just 14 league games left and mounting pressure to avoid missing the playoffs with a high-priced roster of international talent, Klein scuttled his preseason plan with Onalfo. He quickly brought back Schmid, the winningest coach in MLS history and a two-time league champion who spent the previous nine seasons with the Seattle Sounders.
“It didn’t take me long to think about it, because this is a club that’s always been dear to my heart,” said Schmid, who first coached the Galaxy in 1999. “Coming back is certainly a great situation. It’s a matter right now of just getting to know the players, establishing our trust and our relationship, and getting them to understand the passion that I have.”
The German-born coach grew up in the Los Angeles area and spent 28 years at UCLA as a player and coach, winning three national championships. Schmid’s largely successful first tenure with the Galaxy included the franchise’s first MLS Cup title in 2002.
After leaving the Galaxy in 2004, Schmid went on to coach Columbus and Seattle, where he became the expansion franchise’s first coach in 2009.
The Galaxy host Seattle on Saturday night in a timely reunion for the 64-year-old Schmid, the only coach in Sounders history before the club fired him last summer. The Sounders went on to win the MLS Cup after dropping Schmid last year, but he holds fond feelings for his tenure in Seattle.
“The way things ended (with the Sounders), it just reminded me I’ve got to stay consistent and true to what I feel are my strengths as a coach, and that’s something I’m really excited to have the opportunity to do here,” Schmid said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a unique challenge, and I feel very blessed to be able to coach in my home city.”
Onalfo was promoted from the Galaxy’s developmental squad last winter when longtime coach Bruce Arena went back to the U.S. national team. The Galaxy had an offseason of major franchise upheaval that also included the departures of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Landon Donovan.
But Onalfo, a veteran MLS coach and former assistant to Arena, never got consistent results from a group including Ashley Cole, Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, Jermaine Jones and Gyasi Zardes.
“This is not a change in club direction,” Klein said. “This is a new leader coming in that can lead us to where we want to go. Sigi’s record speaks for itself, so when we took a step back and evaluated everything, he was the right man for the job. He understands our club. Certainly no one has a better understanding of the league. It became an easy decision.”
While newcomer Alessandrini and team leader Dos Santos have had outstanding moments in attack, the Galaxy’s defense has been particularly porous, and Schmid cited its improvement as his first priority.
Despite injuries that have sidelined Robbie Rogers for the season and limited other players on the back line, Schmid believes the Galaxy can defend better.
“I think it’s more than personnel,” Schmid said. “It’s a question of how we’re defending, so we need to alter a little bit how we’re defending to fully take advantage of the skill sets of the players we have back there. At times the team defended in a way that made it difficult for those guys.”
Jonathan Dos Santos won’t be available to play Saturday against the Sounders, but Schmid and Klein expect an immediate impact from the talented 27-year-old member of the Mexican national team.
“He can fit into our lineup at a number of different positions and improve our team in multiple ways,” Schmid said. “He still has his best years of playing in front of him, and we are excited to add him to our team.”