|By Tim Froh |
Contributing Writer – Climbing the Ladder
After the San Jose Earthquakes won the MLS Cup in 2003, head coach Frank Yallop was the toast of the league. He had guided the club to its first playoff appearance since 1996 in his first season in 2001, leading them to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. Two years later the team would once again be crowned league champions, its second title in only three years. Yallop’s MLS success won him a job as the head coach of the struggling Canadian National Team. Now with Los Angeles, nothing seems to be going right. The last thing on Yallop’s mind is winning MLS Cup. He’d be content if the Galaxy could simply win a game. In six short years, Yallop has gone from paragon to pariah. Where did it all go wrong?
The situation that Yallop inherited from former coach Steve Sampson initially seemed ideal. He was taking over a team that had just won the MLS Cup but was struggling mightily to find its footing the season after. With little pressure to succeed in 2006, Yallop guided the team to within points of a surprise playoff appearance. With an entire off-season ahead of him and a solid core of talent, the team seemed poised to improve in 2007. But then came David Beckham.
Shortly after Beckham’s arrival, the team traded two of its most talented young players, Herculez Gomez and defender Ugo Ihemelu to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for goalkeeper Joe Cannon. The move reunited Cannon with his former Earthquakes coach, and allowed the team to trade fan favorite Kevin Hartman to Kansas City (the trade sent LA a draft pick which they subsequently used to acquire forward Robbie Findley, who they then traded to Real Salt Lake). There’s no doubting Cannon’s talent and his usefulness to the Galaxy squad, but this kind of two-for-one trade only further depleted the Galaxy’s depth, a trend that has come up again and again with General Manager Alexi Lalas.
The team didn’t stop there. Later they would trade part of an allocation for forward Nate Jaqua (who they would again trade, sense a trend?). Early this season they traded two rookie talents, Robbie Findley and Nate Sturgis, for winger Chris Klein. Again, Yallop and Lalas traded two potentially useful players for one. Central defender Tyrone Marshall, a longtime Galaxy veteran, was also trade earlier this season. These trades are not part of a bigger plan, but part of a win-now philosophy. Decimated by injuries and lacking depth, this philosophy has come back to haunt the Galaxy in a very noticeable way.
The extent to which Alexi Lalas is responsible for these trades is debatable, but Yallop must take some responsibility. It was likely not Lalas’ decision to cut defensive midfielder Marcelo Saragosa, nor was it likely his decision to trade Todd Dunivant (a player that Yallop drafted while still coach of the Earthquakes) or to leave defensive midfielder Pablo Nagamura unprotected in the expansion draft. Yallop, in other words, is directly responsible for the team’s lack of midfield bite and defensive depth. In the process of shaping the roster according to his own vision, he failed to recognize and appreciate the talent that already existed. He didn’t cut dead weight, a luxury that he had while with San Jose (who were an utterly woeful team in 2000, nearly entirely bereft of talent), but rather he cut much-needed depth. If anything, the Beckham signing and the disastrous schedule it brought with it should have reinforced the team’s need for quality depth across the field.
The 2007 season has been a disastrous one for Yallop, but he is not entirely to blame. It is true that he has made some utterly confounding in-game decisions (his decision to leave David Beckham in last Thursday’s match against Chivas USA the most egregious), but who could have foreseen the signing of David Beckham in June 2006? Indeed, the Beckham signing has above all else had a profound effect, both positive and negative, on the Galaxy. Not only has Yallop wilted under the footballing and media spotlight brought on by Beckham’s arrival, but his players have as well. Last night’s Superliga final notwithstanding, few Galaxy players have responded well to the signing, despite the fact that Beckham has been utterly inspirational on the pitch. Given a prime opportunity to excel under pressure, once again, Landon Donovan has wilted. While not a Landon basher, it is disconcerting to see how eagerly he handed over the captain’s armband to Beckham. He said: “For me, it's not as important to wear the armband. I'm going to play the same way and act the same way towards guys whether I have that or not.” His decision to give the armband to Beckham is not in question, but his motivation is. How can you trust a player who tells you that he plays the same way regardless of the armband? How can he motivate his teammates when he’s not leading by example on the pitch? It’s ironic then that many have come out swinging at Yallop for his seeming inability to motivate his team. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that Beckham has become the team’s true motivator and on-field general. But it’s hard for me, as an Earthquakes fan, to stomach this argument when it was this same Frank Yallop who motivated his 2003 San Jose Earthquakes back from a 4-0 aggregate deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy in perhaps the greatest playoff game in MLS history. Yallop has never been a fiery man on the pitch, he often left those duties to assistant coach Dominic Kinnear (who now has relinquished those duties to assistant coach John Spencer). And who knows what Yallop’s current relationship is like with boss Alexi Lalas?
So where did things go all wrong? Certainly, there is no one factor that has led to Yallop’s decline. He is equally responsible for the team’s poor performances, both because of his player personnel moves as well as because of his inability to rise to the pressure of David Beckham’s arrival. However, his track record cannot be questioned. The man still won 2 MLS Cups in only three years (former Earthquakes GM Johnny Moore has often explained that both Yallop and Kinnear were responsible for the team’s success; Yallop was the prime architect, Kinnear his pupil). He has failed in Los Angeles and will soon be fired. But there is little doubt in my mind that Yallop will rebound, whether in a reunion with his former club or elsewhere.