Time to roll out the ball and strap on the boots, MLS First Kick has finally arrived at The Home Depot Center. I don’t know about you, but Saturday’s game against New England is a date that I have had circled on the calendar for months. Galaxy fans filling the stadium, the smell of the concession stands, the field freshly mowed, game days are a special event and something we have gone four months without. While the offseason usually flies by for me, the past few weeks have been going at a pedestrian pace. Never fear, week one is here!
In contrast to the past few season with the LA Galaxy, there are not nearly as many questions entering the season. This is nearly the same roster that finished last season, with a couple of added new faces. The vital components in LA’s run to MLS Cup 2009 are back and eager to take things one-step further in 2010. Several players have echoed exactly that to me in the past couple weeks. Edson Buddle said that the image of missing that final penalty in Seattle fueled his training in the offseason. Dema Kovalenko explained how it pained him that he fell ill right before the Championship game and wasn’t able to contribute in the most important match of the season. Landon Donovan stated that this team was “so close to lifting the trophy.”
The journey to going one-step further begins on Saturday.
Prior to last season, the New England Revolution had either won or tied the season series with LA dating back to 1999. The Galaxy came away victorious in both contests in 2009, but had not beaten New England in the nine previous meetings before then. Maybe the tide is turning between these two teams, and it is heading in the Galaxy’s favor.
The Revolution will be without a number of their regulars to open the season. Taylor Twellman (concussion symptoms), Matt Reis (recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries) and Shalrie Joseph (hip flexor) are not expected to travel. Add to that New England no longer feature Jay Heaps, Steve Ralston, and Jeff Larentowicz, all moving on after lengthy careers with the club.
So you are probably wondering which players head coach, Steve Nicol will throw out in the starting eleven, and maybe he is too. Well, the answer is a ton of young players. Many of these young players earned MLS experience last season, due to the number of injuries the Revs had to play through. Youth usually means speed, and that is certainly the case with the 2010 edition of New England.
Sainey Nyassi, Kenny Mansally, Kheli Dube and newcomer Zack Schilawski all possess the quickness to get in behind the Galaxy defense. Nyassi and Mansally attack from wide positions, while Dube is a player that can finish chances around the area, as he showed last year by finishing tied for the team-lead in goals with eight. If these players are allowed to see time and space with the ball, LA will be doing a lot of chasing in the final third of the field.
One way to limit the above listed players from having freedom to operate is controlling the tempo in the midfield. Kovalenko and new Brazilian teammate, Juninho are the keys here. If the Galaxy can use the ball-winning talents of Kovalenko, and then play through Juninho to find Donovan and Co. in open spaces, LA should be in great shape. Landon will look to find space all over the field, but will likely start the game in a wide midfield role, which, in my eyes is his best position. There is no doubt he has the pace to get back and help out defensively, and going forward is one of the most difficult to deal in MLS, when running at defenders with the ball at his feet.
The defenders will have less to worry about if the midfield does its job. Sean Franklin has the athleticism and speed to stay with the faster players in the New England line-up, but Todd Dunivant on the left side will have to count on his veteran experience to deal with the pace of the Rev’s attack. It is always nice to know that you have one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Donovan Ricketts, back there if you need him to bail you out from time to time. I think we all saw that Ricketts is more than capable of pulling off the “big” save when needed.