CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy come out of the tunnel at The Home Depot Center on Saturday (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT; KDOC, KWHY, lagalaxy.com/gamedaylive, MLS Live), they will do something they’ve not done in more than half a decade: take the field as reigning MLS champions.
Not since 2006 have the Galaxy been able to walk in front of their home supporters as conquering heroes, a fact not lost on team captain Landon Donovan.
“Home openers are always fun,” Donovan told reporters on Friday. “I had the opportunity to play our first home game as a champion here before, and it’s always special. It should be a fun night and exciting night.”
Donovan, Beckham & Keane ready for First Kick
Celebrating 2011 and reminiscing about the magical year gone by will be fun, but Saturday’s match against Real Salt Lake will also formally turn the page from 2011 to 2012.
“At the end of all the celebrating of last year, we have a very difficult task,” Donovan said. “Our goal has to be very clear and we start the season in the right way.”
The year has already begun for the Galaxy, of course. They tied Toronto FC 2-2 on Wednesday in the first leg of the clubs’ CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
However, the Galaxy will play before their home crowd for the first time since MLS Cup 2011, when they knocked off Houston 1-0 to win their third MLS Cup.
The victory gave David Beckham the chance to play in MLS as a defending champion – both a triumph and a relief to the veteran.
“It’s the first time it’s happened to me here in LA, so it’s exciting to go into a season being champion," Beckham said on Friday. "But at the end of the day, we have to forget about last season now. We’re very proud of our achievements, but we’re into a new season now and we need to keep hold of that trophy.”
Saturday’s match could produce some entertainment and drama, even if it’s just the first of 34 regular-season games for each side. Nonetheless, it qualifies as a big game, as it will feature two of the last three MLS Cup champions doing battle.
For the Galaxy, the task is a little bit difficult because of their match in Toronto. It’s the first bit of roster-juggling in what will be a packed 2012 schedule.
“Sometimes you hope that as a champion you get a little easing into the league, but this is as good as it gets,” Donovan said. “We’re excited to play at home for our first league game and we’re playing against in my opinion one of the top one, two or three teams in the league, so it’s going to be tough.”
Real Salt Lake have not played a competitive match since losing to the Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship last November. RSL, who claimed their MLS Cup title at the Galaxy’s expense back in 2009, will enter the game focused and determined.
“They get up for the game,” Donovan said. “I know Kyle [Beckerman] well and I know he will be really excited for this game. He was tweeting a few weeks ago ‘March 10,’ so I’m sure they’ve had this game circled for a long time and they’re excited about it.”
RSL may have an edge in fitness. The Galaxy, after all traveled to Toronto on Monday, played a thrilling and taxing match against the Reds and traveled back to Southern California afterward, arriving in the wee hours of Thursday morning. They were off Thursday and players went through a light training session under a scorching late morning sun on Friday.
The task though is simple for Saturday, at least in the early going.
“We need to make sure we match their intensity,” Donovan said. “We’re at a little bit of a disadvantage having played and traveled so we’ve got to make sure our energy is right at the beginning of the game.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org