With the LA Galaxy set to kick off MLS season number 17 on Saturday (and reentering the CONCACAF fray on Wednesday) it's time to take a look at what they'll be going up against as LA attempts to win it's second CONCACAF trophy and it's fourth MLS trophy. Much of the core is still there, and a few new (and returning faces) abound. Hopefully you've been following along during the Hot Stove season, but if not; we'll try and get you caught up.
Hopefully by now you know that MLS has grown by one this season, with the Montreal Impact beginning their MLS life on Saturday. They're under the direction of former Chicago Fire and Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch, who's been an assistant with the United Stated national team these last two years.
The other big MLS wide development is the switch from Fox Soccer Channel to NBC Sports Network. The first NBC Sports broadcast will be on Sunday, New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas with Arlo White and Kyle Martino on the call. Rounding up the offseason news: the MLS Cup will now be hosted by the top remaining seed, not a predetermined site, and 15 of the 19 MLS teams will play in a stadium built with soccer in mind. Note the "soccer specific" category has been altered to include stadiums renovated to accommodate the soccer club.
Of course, what has Galaxy fans in a tizzy these days is the return of CONCACAF Champions League play. The quarterfinal round kicks off on Wednesday, with the Galaxy in Toronto for the first match of the two legged tie. The match will start at 5:00 PST on Fox Soccer, the opening match of a doubleheader that also sees Seattle Sounders FC taking on Santos Laguna.
All three remaining MLS clubs are on the same side of the bracket making a FMF vs. MLS final the most probable result. The road to final will involve a game in a dome on turf, and then a home leg in front of 7,500 people. In short, it's going to be a bit bizarre.
New acquisition Marcelo Sarvas is cup tied, and as such can't play for the Galaxy in CCL play. However, the Galaxy did upgrade by returning Edson Buddle after a year abroad. The club was also able to work out a new loan deal for Juninho. The only downgrade from the club that began CCL play is the loss of Omar Gonzalez in the back. The defense showed improvement in every match of the preseason, managing a clean sheet in the championship match of the Desert Diamond Cup.
As for Saturday's MLS opener, for reasons known only to the broadcasters, this rematch of the Western Conference Final between the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake will be a local broadcast only. The clubs split the season series last year, with each team taking the home match. The Galaxy took the rubber match of the Western Conference Final 3-1, but this against a less than full strength RSL back line.
That back line will have returned to form, and RSL is also expecting to have midfielder Javier Morales for the entire year this season. Key to RSL's attack, Morales fractured his leg last season and only played in 10 matches. Real Salt Lake will be a huge threat to the Galaxy's attempt to win back to back MLS Cups and their third Western Conference title in four years.
Of course, the big story for the Galaxy this offseason was the re-signing of David Beckham. The Designated Player trio of Landon Donovan (12 goals), David Beckham (15 assists), and Robbie Keane (three goals after joining LA) is the envy of most of the league. Now Edson Buddle, who scored 17 goals in his last Galaxy year, has folks wondering if LA could have an all-time offense this year. Buddle will partner with Keane, who looks to break out in his first full MLS year.
"I know exactly what to expect [in MLS]. How the game is played here – I obviously got a feel last year [but now I am] going into games knowing a bit more about the people you're playing against and things like that, and getting used to the travel and stuff like that. I believe it's going to be a big season, certainly for me."
-- LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane to ESPNLosAngeles.com
The team may need to have a record year offensively, as the defense learns to play with rookie Tommy Meyer. Still, returning 3/4 from last year's top three all time defense shouldn't be a cause for panic. How things go in Toronto will likely set the tone for the entire month. The Galaxy will face a difficult test in April, so a fast start will be key to setting the pace for the entire league for a third straight year.