CARSON, Calif. -- The MLS schedule-makers certainly didn’t do the Galaxy any favors this season in packing 34 regular season matches around the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. In the opinion of head coach Bruce Arena, “It is what it is.”
Five of the team’s first seven games are on the road, including a three-game swing that begins Saturday in Washington, D.C., against D.C. United. Then it’s on to Toronto on Wednesday, April 13 and Chicago on Sunday, April 17 before the Galaxy return home to face the expansion Portland Timbers on Saturday, April 23.
Coaches and players actually don’t appear to mind playing so many road games so early in the season. They were, after all, particularly good on the road a year ago in fashioning a 9-3-3 record in away games last year compared to a 9-4-2 mark at home. In fact, over the last two seasons, the Galaxy are 8-2-5 when playing on the road against Eastern Conference opposition.
“Personally, it’s important just to get these road trips out of the way,” said goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who made his first start of the season in last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union at The Home Depot Center. He had missed the first three games with a strained hamstring.
“On the soccer side, it’s going to be a test.”
Arena said he is particularly pleased to be playing at D.C. United so early in the season. The Galaxy won at RFK Stadium last July 18 and won, 2-1, a game that was played in sauna-like conditions.
“D.C.’s never an easy place to play in,” he said. “Being able to beat the heat and humidity this time around is not bad. We’ve been there in July and August the last couple of seasons, I think, and it’s been unbearable. The conditions should be a little bit better.”
A number of players are especially looking forward to returning to Toronto FC’s BMO Field, where the Galaxy tied 0-0 on June 26, which boasts one of the best in stadium atmospheres in MLS and the old synthetic surface was replaced by natural grass ahead of the 2010 season. Players also like the Chicago Fire’s TOYOTA Park in Bridgeview, Ill., because, similar to The Home Depot Center, it is one of the league’s bigger playing surfaces.
If Arena did have one minor gripe, it’s that the Galaxy is playing so many road games so early on.
“We’re in a marketplace where I would have kept us home early,” he said referencing the warm weather here in Southern California. “But it is what it is. Then we play in Salt Lake in those conditions at altitude on a fixture date (the U.S. played Argentina that day). That, to me, doesn’t make any sense, but it is what it is.
“I have enough headaches besides scheduling.”
Arena said he expects big crowds at all three venues on this trip – “Anytime the Galaxy comes to town it’s the big game of the year,” he said – and he’ll have to adjust his roster on the fly, starting with the absence of midfielder Chris Birchall, who will miss the D.C. United match after being red carded in last Saturday’s victory over the Union.
“By game three,” Arena said, “there’s going to have to be some changes in our lineup. We’re going to have to use more than 11 players, for sure. It’ll be interesting to see how we rotate players, and everything will depend on results, injuries, suspensions and conditions."
“The players need to step in and produce. It’ll be interesting to see.”
Defender Todd Dunivant is confident the Galaxy will respond.
“Last year, I think our road record was phenomenal … it might have been better than our home record, I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ve been a good road team the last couple of years and we’ve got a good track record on the road.
“That’s a good sign going into this trip.”