Data Visualization by Steve Fenn
Los Angeles prides itself on being a city of champions and with five MLS Cup titles to their credit, the LA Galaxy have a place among the city’s sports elite.
Over the last six years the Galaxy appear to have created a dynasty with three MLS Cup titles in five years and four MLS Cup final appearances in six seasons. During that six-year period, the Galaxy have been perennial contenders for the tile, missing out on the conference final only once in that span.
In a town defined by glitz and glamour, the Galaxy’s tradition of winning trophies has turned heads but can they truly be called a “dynasty”?
“The Galaxy want to be the best. They bring in world class players and that’s certainly one way to try and build a dynasty and be a successful club,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Helene Elliott. “Doing this with salary restrictions, which is much different than baseball where you can basically spend however much you want, is very difficult to do. ... The Galaxy’s staying success qualifies as a dynasty under anyone’s definition.”
What helps the Galaxy’s credentials as a true Los Angeles dynasty is that it has come in a lean period for sports in the Southland. The staples of the city, the Lakers and the Dodgers have struggled as of late while a new figure on the scene, the L.A. Clippers have yet to challenge for a title despite bringing in star players. Meanwhile in Orange County, teams like the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and baseball’s Angels have gone through similar dry spells.
The only team that has come close to reaching the Galaxy’s heights is their AEG sister club in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings, who have won two Stanley Cups in the last three years. It’s no secret that the two clubs share a close relationship given their mutual ownership. The President of the United States has even honored the clubs together at the White House twice in the last three seasons.
Is it an AEG thing? ESPN Los Angeles columnist Arash Markazi believes it is.
“AEG has stepped up in a tough sports time in Los Angeles,” said Markazi “The Galaxy and the Kings have set the bar extremely high because the Lakers haven’t won the title since 2010 and others are struggling. Both teams are right there at the top.”
Continuity has been a major staple of the Galaxy’s championship run as five active players (Omar Gonzalez, Juninho, Leonardo, Robbie Keane, Todd Dunivant, and A.J. DeLaGarza) have title rings from each of LA’s championship victories. Although the backbone of the team has remained the same, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has managed a huge cast of differing personalities and contributors like Marcelo Sarvas, Landon Donovan and the biggest of all, David Beckham.
It’s Arena’s ability to juggle these different characters leads Markazi to compare the Galaxy boss to the tightrope act performed by former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson when he lead the Lake Show to six titles in 10 years by using a host of different players.
“What makes a dynasty work is when you can change pieces. The Lakers won six titles in 10 years, but the beginning of the run, it was the Kobe and Shaq era, but the second incarnation it was Kobe, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom,” said Markazi. “Another key is to have a system and a coach in place where you can change the pieces. Look at the New England Patriots who constantly change, but they have an established system that players want to play.
“When a player like Steven Gerrard makes a decision to come to MLS, it shows that players want to play here and that this is the gold standard in Major League Soccer. Bruce has a lot to do with that. You can do all the nice things like building a stadium and getting a major sponsor, that’s great, but when Bruce came here, he established a system that created a team that guys want to play for.”
Added Elliott, “There is an expectation of excellence because players expect to play and win here. The Lakers built a winning culture and the Galaxy have built a winning culture as well. That’s a very difficult thing to do, but I think that the Galaxy have done that.”
Arena believes that the team’s stretch since 2009 has earned them the title “dynasty” but the LA boss believes that the club still has work to do before they truly capture the hearts and minds of Los Angeles.
“We just have to win a little bit better and we have to fill our stadium,” said Arena. “We need to be a presence in the L.A. sports market… We know that is a goal of ours to do that as well.”
Should the Galaxy keep up their winning ways, the belief is that Arena will have his full stadium.
“In Los Angeles, we gravitate toward winning teams,” said Markazi. “People may not watch the entire season, but you can’t watch games like the Conference Championship in Seattle or the MLS Cup and not become a fan. Within the past four years that Galaxy fan base has grown because the team is so consistent and good.”
The LA Galaxy may have won three MLS Cups in the last four years, but do they truly deserve a place alongside the Lakers and Dodgers as Los Angeles’ next great sports dynasty? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.