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Galaxy's Schmid sitting on hot seat

03:00 AM PST on Wednesday, November 12, 2003

On the Galaxy
Damian Secore

A 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup, a 2001 U.S Open Cup and a 2002 MLS Cup. These are the three major championships -- all won under Coach Sigi Schmid -- that legitimized the Galaxy's winning tradition.

Schmid also was on the bench Sunday as the Galaxy crashed out of the MLS quarterfinals, 5-4 on aggregate to San Jose, after holding a 4-0 aggregate lead 13 minutes into the second game of the series. Right about now, those trophies must seem buried among clouds of dust.

The dust doesn't figure to settle yet following, arguably, the most colossal collapse in MLS history. Its chief competition for that dubious honor was the Galaxy's 3-2 overtime loss to D.C. United in the 1996 MLS Cup. The Galaxy had a 2-0 lead with 21 minutes left that time.

Coach Lothar Osiander lasted only 12 matches into 1997. Schmid may not receive such a grace period. The leash is short when you coach the Galaxy. According to assistant coach Ralph Perez, Galaxy management and the coaching staff are scheduled to meet Thursday.

"I think we're both in trouble," Perez said.

Going with a more defensive style this season resulted in the club's first losing season, ill-timed considering its move into U.S. Soccer's new mecca, Home Depot Center. Only three matches sold out.

It can't, however, be pinned down to one or two scapegoats.

During a year in which the Galaxy finally could call itself MLS champion, it carried itself as anything but. Considering what it put into this season, Sunday's result was deserving, albeit cruel.

Championship teams have a strong leadership presence. The Galaxy lost Sunday after going up 2-0 and retreating inside its own third to defend. Momentum was surrendered, and no one took the initiative to restore order. Captain Cobi Jones is not vocal or emotional. Once an offensive focal point, he turned into a role player.

Championship teams don't go 0-10-6 on the road, as the Galaxy did in becoming the MLS' first winless road team for an entire season. The squad regularly admitted to not matching opponents' intensity.

Championship teams shouldn't casually excuse losing to fatigue, injuries, travel and the referees. Defender Tyrone Marshall suggested Sunday that "referees were going to give them (San Jose) all the calls. You can tell who they're protecting and who they want to move on."

Vice president/general manager Doug Hamilton's major signing was Hong Myung-Bo, 34, primarily made to boost the club's profile and earn the Korean community's dollar. While Hong's quality is undisputed, it was an unnecessary luxury in defense. An attacking central midfielder was needed more.

Looking for a midseason shakeup, a trade with Dallas landed Ryan Suarez, Antonio Martinez and Paul Broome. None started more than three matches.

The Galaxy signed Colombian Diego Serna just after the All-Star break to cure its scoring woes. He had three goals and two assists in 10 matches, but played in only one of the team's last six games. Hamilton liked Serna from their days with the defunct Miami Fusion, but was this the striker Schmid wanted?

Schmid's strength is in evaluating and developing talent. He found Carlos Ruiz in Guatemala and Alejandro Moreno, who this week becomes a Venezuelan international for the first time. He brought along the likes of Danny Califf, Peter Vagenas and Sasha Victorine, who now are in the U.S. player pool.

What may lead to Schmid's downfall is his questionable ability as a tactician and a perceived notion that he is losing the team's confidence. Ruiz, MLS' leading goal scorer the past two years, Cienfuegos and Serna often questioned team tactics.

Ruiz, who is considering getting out of his MLS contract and bolting for Europe, said the playoff loss shows "there's got to be things that are going to have to change."

Days before the playoffs began, Schmid made a direct plea to Galaxy fans, and perhaps an indirect plea to management simultaneously.

"I hope our fans realize what this team has done over the years. We are the only team to qualify for the playoffs every year," he said. "We probably need to change it and reshape it and do some things different in the offseason."

Guaranteed, there will be significant player personnel changes. While it may seem unfair considering what the Galaxy has accomplished with Schmid, those changes may also soon include him.

Reach Damian Secore at (909) 368-9529 or preps@pe.com.

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