View From the Booth: Seattle provides first test of 2011

LA Galaxy look for continued success against Sounders

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Seems
like just yesterday the LA Galaxy were hosting the Western Conference
Championship against FC Dallas.  Hard to
wrap my head around the fact that four months have passed, Colorado won the MLS Cup and two new teams
have since joined the league. Now it’s time to roll out the balls to begin a
new season.

The
Galaxy will get an immediate gauge on the level of their play in the first
match, in Seattle
against the Sounders FC.  Qwest Field
will certainly be at fever pitch before the first whistle, and the challenge in
front of the Galaxy becomes even stiffer. 

Now,
before I get the anxiety levels too high, let’s talk about some of the key
points to keep an eye on Tuesday night.

I
have had the opportunity to see the Galaxy several times over the past few
weeks in both practice and games.  The
word that I have heard most from both the coaches and players so far has been
depth.  That is the case in every aspect
of the field for the 2011 squad. 
Offensively, goals will come from a number of different places this
year, in contrast to last season when Edson Buddle did most of the scoring. It
was a sad day when Buddle announced he was leaving to play in Germany. But
that expression quickly changed once news that Juan Pablo Angel had signed with
the Galaxy surfaced.  The Colombian has
been one of the most consistent scorers in MLS since he arrived in New York four years
ago.  I expect Chad Barrett to join Angel
up top.  I don’t know that Barrett has
ever played with this much talent around him during his time with both Chicago and Toronto.

In
the midfield, Juninho is one of a group of players that will be expected to
make big leaps forward from their contributions a year ago. The central
midfielder just might end up being the most talked about player seven months
from now.  The young Brazilian looks
stronger on the ball, more vocal with teammates and no one ever doubted his
ability to play the dangerous through ball. 
Juninho will likely line-up next to Chris Birchall in the middle of the
field, a player that can cover a lot of ground. 
This will be the first time that Birchall enters the year with a
clear-cut role in LA’s line-up.  The
Trinidad & Tobago International will sit in front of the back four, gobble
up any loose balls and occasionally unleash a long distance bomb on target from
time to time.  His ability to win the
ball, and cover a ton of real estate allows Juninho substantial freedom going
forward. And what can I say about David Beckham and Landon Donovan that hasn’t
been said already?

Defensively,
expect much of the same from a year ago when LA had one of the tightest
backlines in the league.  Depth will be a
huge factor in this part of the team as well. 
I expect the Galaxy to line–up exactly as they did a year ago in the
opening game of the year— with Todd Dunivant, Leonardo, Omar Gonzalez and Sean
Franklin comprising the defenders and Donovan Ricketts in the net.  New addition Frankie Hejduk and third year
player A.J. DeLaGarza should be the first two off the bench on the defensive
side of the ball.  While veteran defender
Gregg Berhalter, who added a new title to his business, assistant coach, is
always a great organizer in the back. Berhalter will have to use that skill
from the sidelines in the beginning of the year, as he nurses an MCL sprain to
begin the season.

But
enough about LA, what about their competition for First Kick? 

Well,
the Sounders still have a very talented group heading into 2011.  The primary weapons for coach Sigi Schmid are
the same in Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani and Blaise Nkufo.  A lot of eyes, including my own will be
interested to see how Nkufo will do with an entire season on the Sounders.  Osvaldo Alonso will hold down the middle of
the field, and I expect MLS newcomer, Erik Friberg to join Alonso in the
middle.  Friberg brings several years of
experience playing in Scandinavia to Seattle,
which leads me to expect a very technical player that has no problem filling in
the gaps for other players to shine. 

No
question the match will be full of excitement. 

The
Galaxy have a fantastic opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the
league that they have not skipped a beat. 
LA has been one of the most successful teams for the past two years in
MLS, but the players will be quick to tell you they have their eyes set on
getting a championship this year.  Not
that they didn’t in the past, but speaking with some of the guys over the last
few weeks, there is a great feeling of excitement and optimism around this
team.  Step one of the overall goal can
be accomplished Tuesday in one of the toughest places for visiting teams to
play. Then, and only then, can LA move onto step two, which is the home opener
Sunday against New England at The Home Depot
Center.

Video: Match Preview

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