The news that Chris Klein would return for an 11th season as president of the LA Galaxy was quietly announced on a Thursday evening in a two-sentence statement to Kevin Baxter of the LA Times. With Klein’s contract having expired at the end of the 2022 season, this announcement ended speculation that he might not be returning after his suspension as part of the MLS sanctions imposed on the Galaxy for violating salary guidelines in their 2019 agreement with Cristian Pavón.
“Per club policy, we don’t disclose employment terms,” the Galaxy stated. “Chris Klein is the LA Galaxy’s President and he will resume full responsibilities at the close of the winter transfer window.”
Judging by the brevity and the clandestine nature of the announcement, it’s apparent that the Galaxy front office knew that it would be an unpopular decision. In a swift and surprising display of unity, five Galaxy supporters’ groups — Galaxians, LA Riot Squad, Angel City Brigade, Galaxy Outlawz, and Ghosts Ultras Galaxy — released a joint statement the next day unanimously agreeing not to attend any further matches until change in the front office is made.
On January 17, Los Angeles Riot Squad specified their demands for the removal of both Klein and Technical Director Jovan Kirovski. We were able to reach out to Andrew Alesana, President of the Riot Squad, to clarify the reasons for their demands.
“Through all the players, GMs, and head coaches we have had throughout the years, Klein and Kirovski are the only constants,” Alesana said. “Kirovski’s role has been purposefully muddled and he has been given credit for bringing in Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], but hasn’t exactly been given the credit for the far worse signings like Rolf Feltscher, Michael Ciani, Jorgen Skjelvic, Diego Costa, etc. That list can go for a while.
“As Technical Director he allowed an academy coach’s brother, who was a player agent, to pillage our academy and send talent to Europe with no compensation to the club. Throughout his tenure there has been a nefarious cloud hanging over the club and how we operate.”
While terms of the contract extension were not disclosed, Klein’s previous two contracts as president were for five seasons each. Additionally, strong business results including record numbers in revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships were cited while highlighting a five-year, $35-million extension of their jersey sponsorship with Herbalife Nutrition.
Unfortunately, the club’s on-field performance has been a far cry from matching its business success. A former pro with a 12-year career in MLS and appearances on the United States men’s national team, Klein retired in 2010 after helping the Galaxy win the Supporters’ Shield. After serving as the club’s Senior Director and Vice President, AEG’s Tim Leiweke appointed him President in 2013, where he has assumed the role until today.
It’s accurate to say Klein inherited the role of President at the height of the Galaxy’s success, during which they won three MLS Cups from 2011-2014. In hindsight, the club’s accomplishments can mostly be attributed to head coach and GM Bruce Arena and his ability to build a winning team. Klein’s series of missteps can be traced nearly all the way back to his earliest decisions.
Two of the biggest signings under his tenure included Steven Gerrard to an 18-month Designated Player contract worth a reported $9 million, and Giovani Dos Santos to a reported $7 million deal in 2015. While highly touted as a phenom, by this time Dos Santos had bounced from club to club after having developed a penchant and reputation for partying. There were concerns of how he would fit in with Arena, who was widely known for running a disciplined team. Disappointingly, despite the presence of these two major signings, the Galaxy were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.
The next year saw the departure of Arena, who left to begin his second stint as coach of the USMNT. Klein promoted reserve team coach Curt Onalfo to head coach and appointed his former Galaxy teammate Pete Vagenas as General Manager. However, Onalfo lasted less than a season and was fired and replaced by former head coach Sigi Schmid. The club finished 8-18-8 and failed to make the postseason, while ending up with its first wooden spoon.
During the past 10 years of Klein’s presidency, the club has gone through six head coaches and four general managers. Besides the one MLS Cup in 2014, they have never made it past the quarterfinals in the playoffs. In the last five years, the club has made it to the postseason once while not having qualified four times and finishing in last place once. Even while making the case that the Pavón debacle is the fault of former club sporting director Dennis te Kloese, Klein’s track record in the last decade has been quantifiably bad. In a league where approximately half the teams qualify for the playoffs, and for a franchise with the most MLS Cups in league history, the LA Galaxy’s current situation is embarrassing.
Adding insult to injury has been seeing the enviable success of their crosstown rivals. LAFC has been the upstart darling of the league with its star-studded ownership group and newly-built stadium ever since its inception in 2018. With fans decked out in black and gold and coalescing in downtown Los Angeles, LAFC has been able to create a definable culture and presented itself as the hip club in contrast to the Galaxy’s dated presence. Truth be told, Galaxy fans can no longer rely on bringing up past successes, considering that LAFC has won two Supporters’ Shields and one MLS Cup in only five years of competition. As a further testament to their dominance, LAFC’s undeniable success has resulted in it becoming the first MLS franchise valued at $1 billion in short order.
It is under these circumstances that Galaxy supporters’ groups have joined together to unequivocally state their refusal to withstand it any longer. Considering that the fanbase is the lifeblood of any sports franchise, it is a matter of fact that without their support the team cannot survive indefinitely. The real question is, can the supporters’ groups stay resolute in their resolve or will they slowly cave in over the course of the season member by member?
“I can’t speak for all supporters, but the supporter leadership is united and I speak with the other presidents on an almost daily basis since our statement,” Alesana said. “We are united in this movement.”
Fans outside of the supporters’ groups are feeling frustrated as well.
“The disconnect between the front office and the supporters’ groups has been well documented and noted for years now,” said Cousin Feo, music artist and longtime Galaxy fan. “The SGs for the Galaxy, let alone any football club, are the lifeblood of the team and the community surrounding it. They supply the game day atmosphere and carry the team traditions with more pride than those running the club, only to be treated and seen as dollar signs. The laundry list is long in terms of things that need to be cleaned up, but they have my full support in their stance this season.”
Feo also said he wouldn’t be attending any Galaxy games in solidarity with the supporters’ groups, even cancelling his tickets to the season opener against LAFC at the Rose Bowl.
“Galaxy fans been high off the nostalgia too long now and I recognized the club is at a real crossroads with its overall decline and the dissatisfaction it’s given the die hard fans,” he said. “Just doing my part.”
However, Alesana was also clear in stating that he and the supporters’ groups don’t harbor any ill will towards those who do attend the games.
“I don’t begrudge anyone who decides to go to games,” he said. “I have season tickets and they are already paid for, but I think this is more important. I am willing to eat the costs but I understand if others aren’t. I just want to emphasize that if you are tired of the way the Galaxy has been going since our glory days, join us in the boycott and show AEG how you feel.”
For now, it seems clear that the supporters’ groups and many of the Galaxy faithful intend on standing firm until their demands are met. It’s ironic that the first game of the season was scheduled at the Rose Bowl against LAFC in order to showcase MLS’ marquee rivalry. It’s very likely we will see pockets of empty seats instead of the Galaxy fans that were originally expected. If the die-hard fans are able to remain steadfast in their boycott, the front office will have no choice but to eventually meet their demands. It will be interesting to see which side will fold or call the other’s bluff.