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Galaxy parts ways with Lalas, Gullit

Club fires president and general manager, and coach resigns. Jones is selected interim coach.

August 12, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

With its Major League Soccer season in meltdown mode, the Galaxy on Monday made two significant moves in an effort to salvage something from the wreckage.

Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. World Cup star, was shown the door as president and general manager, paying the price for failing to lead the team to the playoffs in the last two seasons, with a third such failure already looming.

At the same time, Ruud Gullit, the former Dutch international and two-time FIFA world player of the year, resigned as coach after only nine months in the position and with his team struggling at 6-8-5 and winless in its last seven games.

Gullit, who signed a three-year contract that made him one of the highest-paid coaches in MLS, said he was stepping down "for personal reasons."

Former Galaxy standout Cobi Jones, the team's longest-serving and highest-profile player in the days before Landon Donovan and David Beckham came aboard, will serve as interim coach after being an assistant under Gullit since November.

Tom Payne, the team's assistant general manager, will take over Lalas' duties on an interim basis, concentrating on the business side and assisted on the soccer side by Paul Bravo, the Galaxy's director of soccer.

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which owns the Galaxy, said Monday's developments cleared the way for the Galaxy to "straighten the ship out" and regain some forward momentum.

"Unfortunately, you can't fire 22 players," he said, a comment reflective of AEG's considerable unhappiness with the Galaxy and the way it is underperforming. Leiweke had only recently described the team as "dysfunctional," a description he repeated Monday.

"I think they're all responsible," Leiweke said of the players. "What I told them this morning was, 'Now no one has any excuses.' I eliminated all excuses.

"Now it's up to Cobi to straighten it out with the team and on the pitch, and for us to make a decision on how we structure this organization going forward so we no longer have the split we clearly have."

Lalas, who also worked for AEG as president and general manager of the San Jose Earthquakes and New York Metro- Stars (later the Red Bulls), will not move into another position with the company, at least for the moment.

"I think very highly of Alexi. But I think as an organization we need to go in a different direction here. We need to get rid of the tension and the stress and the issues that we have had," Leiweke said.

Lalas and Gullit did not see eye to eye, with the Dutch coach frustrated almost from the moment he arrived by the salary cap and other constraints imposed by MLS. Beckham and Donovan have played well this season, but the Galaxy has slumped in recent weeks.

Whether Gullit was fired or allowed to resign gracefully because of his stature was uncertain.

"This was a difficult move for him to make, professionally as well as personally and there were parts of the move that didn't go as smoothly as we had all hoped," Leiweke said.

"We respect his decision and support it. We've reached mutual and agreeable terms and we move on."

Neither Lalas nor Gullit were available for comment Monday.

Rumors that Gullit might be on his way out had been floating about ever since he sold his Los Angeles home a couple of weeks ago.

But Gullit had made little effort to hide his disappointment at the standard of play in MLS when compared to the top-level European clubs he had played for and coached.

Leiweke said the Beckham camp had not had a significant role in Monday's decisions.

"Ruud was their guy, so Ruud resigning and us accepting that obviously is not a great day for them," Leiweke said. "So those who claim there was influence, this was my decision solely.

"I don't think David knew about this decision until the team meeting. I saw him right before I went in the locker room and I don't even think he knew what I was about to do."

The Galaxy will try to pick up the pieces when it plays Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on Thursday night.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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