LOS ANGELES — With a collective bargaining agreement ratified between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union and the potential for a strike averted, L.A.'s big two soccer clubs, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club, are set to renew hostilities when the season kicks off.

The State of the Galaxy

It’s been a long time out in the wilderness for the L.A. Galaxy. The club hasn't won an MLS Cup since 2014, and the five-time champions have failed to make the playoffs in two out of the last three seasons. After two seasons adrift under Argentine manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the team has brought in former defender Greg Vanney to guide the Gs back to the upper regions of MLS.

Vanney arrives after a successful stint in charge of Toronto FC that saw him lead the club to its sole MLS Cup and be honored as CONCACAF Manager of the Year. Vanney sounded the right notes during a video conference call following the team's first training session Monday, calling the mentality of the group "fantastic."

But with a core squad of aging veterans like Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan dos Santos, and Sebastian Lletget, augmented by still-developing talents like Julian Araujo and Efrain Alvarez, Vanney admitted there are significant gaps to fill before the season gets underway.

"We have some really veteran players and some really young players," Vanney said. "We need to fill the space in the middle, both positionally, but also just in terms of our roster, in terms of age and experience and where people are in their career and different things."

Vanney said the team is looking to add six to eight more players in addition to the defensive reinforcements already brought in in the form of experienced defender Oniel Fisher who was acquired as a free agent, and well-traveled full-back Jorge Villafaña, who was acquired from the Portland Timbers.

"Hopefully some things can get done here soon and announced, they’re all just right there on the edge," Vanney said.

One thing the club is hoping to get done is securing the return of last season's leading scorer, Cristian Pavón. Currently recuperating from ankle surgery, the attacking ace is back at his parent club in Argentina, with Vanney calling his potential return "a very open situation."

Unlocking Chicharito

Much of the Galaxy's success or failure this season likely hinges upon Vanney finding a way to get last season's marquee signing, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, back among the goals. The 32-year-old is Mexico's all-time leading scorer and arrived in L.A. after a decade spent poaching goals at high-powered European outfits like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, and Sevilla. But in Galaxy colors, he's scored just twice.

Speaking about Hernández and his Mexican national team teammate Dos Santos, Vanney called the club's two Designated Players "two guys who put a ton of work into the offseason to get themselves into full fitness."

Singling out Hernández, Vanney said he was "a great communicator and he’s brought energy and excitement and competitiveness to the group."

All of that sounds great, of course, but if he doesn't bring goals, the Galaxy will be in big trouble.

LAFC Poised to Carry on Hunt for First MLS Cup

Meanwhile, up the 110, at its glitzy stadium in the shadow of the downtown skyline, LAFC is preparing to continue its quest for a first MLS Cup. From its inaugural season in 2018, LAFC has established itself as one of the most impactful expansion teams in MLS history. It's got the stadium, the rapturous fanbase, an experienced manager in Bob Bradley, and a star-studded lineup led by Uruguayan striker Diego Rossi and Mexican superstar Carlos Vela. Now it just needs the silverware.

The Rivalry Resumes

In a league that has often appeared to labor to manufacture rivalries, the instantly bitter and acrimonious relationship between the Galaxy and LAFC has given MLS the impassioned, inflamed derby it had long sought.

Matchups between L.A.’s two MLS franchises have produced fireworks from the start. The first meeting, which saw the Galaxy claw its way back from 0-3 down to win 4-3 on the back of a Zlatan Ibrahimović wonder goal, set the tone for a matchup that's produced 39 goals in nine meetings. Despite poor overall form over the past few seasons, the Gs tend to raise their game when it comes to El Trafico and hold a slight upper-hand with a 4-3-3 record against their rivals.

Look for the fireworks to continue when the two teams clash this season.

What Success Looks Like

With what looks like a rebuild still very much underway, a serious MLC Cup tilt may be a bridge too far for the Galaxy this season. But making it back into the playoffs has to be a priority for Vanney and a Galaxy team that's arguably losing the battle for relevance on the L.A. soccer landscape.

For Bradley, failure to reach, never mind win, a first MLS Cup Final after four seasons in charge of a team that’s been given every means to do so might lead the powers that be at the Banc of California Stadium to reevaluate whether the former USMNT manager is still the right man for the job.

Will There Be Fans?

The good news for fans is that both teams are hoping to allow fans back into the stadium, albeit in a limited capacity, once the season gets underway. With the schedule yet to be released, it's not yet known whether either team will play its season opener at home, but Galaxy spokeswoman Vicky Mercado told the LA Times the club was "very hopeful" regarding having fans present for the home opener in April.

Much may depend on the kind of guidance the clubs and the league receive from Gov. Gavin Newsom and local health authorities like Dr. Barbara Ferrer. 

The 26th season of Major League Soccer is set to get underway on April 17.

For information on fixture schedules and the latest on COVID-19 protocols related to attending matches, visit mlssoccer.com


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