The Los Angeles Galaxy returned to the Home Depot Center practice field on Tuesday, fresh from 10 days of workouts and scrimmages in Arizona and continuing to make the kind of progress head coach Bruce Arena had been hoping for.
Make no mistake, the Galaxy are far from a finished product heading into their March 27 regular-season opener against the New England Revolution, but there are plenty of positive signs regarding the defending Western Conference champions.
To gauge the state of this year's team, one must go back to this point during preseason a year ago. Arena was deep into his roster makeover -- one that eventually brought in more than a dozen new players -- in March of 2009 and teammates were learning about each other on the fly.
But no longer. Only five players -- Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Patterson, Julian Valentin, Tony Sanneh and Leonard Griffin -- did not return from last season and players admitted the continuity has helped tremendously.
"Last year, everyone was trying to come together," said midfielder Mike Magee, who was brought in from New York and went on to tie for the team lead in assists. "Everyone was brand new, nobody really knew their roles and were trying to solidify themselves.
"Everything's kind of taking another step. Last year it was square one."
The Galaxy returned from Arizona, where they went 2-0-1 in scrimmages against Columbus, Colorado and Kansas City. Arena said he's generally pleased with how things are going as they prepare for their next preseason game on March 10 against Costa Rica's Puntarenas FC at nearby Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. The Galaxy's preseason finale will be against 14-time Salvadoran Liga Mayor champion CD Aguila on Sunday, March 21 at The Home Depot Center.
"We were pretty crappy at this time last year," he admitted. "We're only a month in, but obviously I think it's been a better start this year than last year. I think we're farther along in every area ... our goalkeeping is very strong, our back lines are good and we have depth and the midfield is a little bit better.
"Hopefully we can make some progress in March and get ourselves ready for the first game."
Defender Todd Dunivant said the improvement in this year's preseason compared to that of 2009 is unmistakeable.
"It's miles further along," he said. "We have the same group, more or less, from last year, and it gives you such an advantage day in and day out. You can start so much further ahead, and I think that's really helped us. You've seen the results in preseason ... we've beaten pretty much everyone we've played.
"Once the season gets going that will give us our real indication of where we are. You can win all the preseason games in the world, but if you don't get it done in the (regular) season it doesn't really matter. But I like where we are at this point."
Dunivant said the trip to Arizona was informative.
"I learned we have a deep team," he said. "We probably have a fewer amount of guys than most teams at this point, but that's because we have such a deep team. We have a lot of guys that can contribute. We're going to need that, with the Champions League and the heavy schedule we have, especially toward the middle part of the season."
Defender Gregg Berhalter, preparing for his second season in MLS, said the team "is getting there."
"I think we're headed in the right direction," he said. "I'm not ready to say we're 100 percent there yet, but we're getting there.
"It seems like things are a little more settled now and I feel we're pretty far ahead than where we were last year. We still have a ways to go, but it's getting closer."
Larry Morgan is a contributor to MLSnet.com.