CARSON, Calif. – David Beckham is off to Paris. Landon Donovan is off to parts unknown as he continues his extended break from the game. But don’t worry about the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy.
They are ready to pursue a third consecutive MLS Cup, starting Sunday at The Home Depot Center against the Chicago Fire (2 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet, UniMas, LIVE CHAT).
“We have to be (ready), right?” veteran left back Todd Dunivant said after training this week. “It’s time.”
Sunday’s game, the earliest start to a regular season in club history, will be preceded by a ceremony during which the players will receive their MLS Cup championship rings. (approximately 1:50 p.m.)
The Galaxy are 8-6-3 in their first game of the regular season and 10-5-2 in their first home game of the year. Since moving to The Home Depot Center in 2003, the Galaxy are 2-2-1 when opening their season at home. But they’re also just 0-2-1 in their first game of a new season after winning MLS Cup, including a 3-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake to open the 2012 season.
The Galaxy are intent on avoiding a similar start to that of a year ago, when they were 3-8-2 at one point and appeared to be in danger of missing the playoffs before their stunning turnaround.
“I think the start last year was so disappointing we want to try to amend a little bit from last year,” head coach Bruce Arena said.
They’ll have to do it without Beckham, who took his seven goals and nine assists in the league last season to Paris-Saint Germain in France’s Ligue 1. Arena acknowledged there will be some adjustments to make without the popular England international.
“Not having David we lose one of the best passers in the history of the game. We’re not going to replace that,” Arena said. “We won’t be as dangerous in some ways, when the ball turns over in our favor.
“Maybe collectively we can do better. That’s all you hope to do. There’s no David Beckham out here replacing the last David Beckham.”
Also gone is goalkeeper Josh Saunders, now with Real Salt Lake after failing to come to contract terms with the Galaxy. He’s been replaced by 39-year-old Carlo Cudicini, formerly of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League.
Then there is Donovan, who had 9 goals and 14 assists (second in MLS behind Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi) in the league a year ago but said he was exhausted and needed to step away from the game for a while. He said he will return later this month.
Helping make up for the latter’s absence is Ireland international Robbie Keane, who scored 23 goals in all competitions in 2012 and led all MLS players with six postseason goals. He has also been named the club’s new captain, taking over the reins from Donovan, who served as the captain each of the previous four seasons.
Keane, who recently signed a multi-year contract extension with the Galaxy, said he has liked what he has seen in preseason, during which the club went 5-1-1.
“The games have been good. We look fit and sharp,” he said.
Keane acknowledged the Galaxy will have a target on their backs this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s always the same, you always want to beat the champions,” he said. ”We’ve been (champions) two years in a row now. I’m sure every team we play against will raise their game and want to obviously beat us.
“It will be the same as last year; people want to beat you because you won the championship before. Hopefully we can repeat it.”