CARSON -- Players are still finding their legs, teams are still seeking chemistry, and there's this massive regional championship going on, so Major League Soccer gave the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC -- two of its three contenders in CONCACAF's Champions League -- the weekend off between crucial quarterfinal contests.
The Galaxy received no such favor, so they head into their league opener in something of a quandary. In the grand scheme, next Wednesday's second leg against Toronto is vastly more important than what will occur Saturday night at Home Depot Center, but it runs counter to club philosophy to treat an MLS game as secondary.
Especially when the opponent is Real Salt Lake. And you're home. And you're unveiling your championship banners.
“Sometimes, you hope that as a champion, you get a little easing into the league, but this is as good as it gets,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said on the eve of the clash. “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.”
It's a rivalry game of sorts -- ever since the 2009 MLS Cup meeting -- that ought to present the American game in its brightest light. Both teams like to “play,” as they say, RSL perhaps more so than L.A. Too bad it's not two months from now, when both sides should have found a rhythm, when RSL might be healthier than they start this season, when there's not some must-win (or must-tie-with-few-goals) clash four days away, when it's not the second of four games in a 12-day span.
Expect Bruce Arena to rotate his roster following Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League draw at HDC. The fake turf wreaks havoc, so a few players might sit out to recover/prepare -- perhaps those with a physical aversion to the plastic, such as David Beckham -- while others find their minutes curtailed. Newcomers Marcelo Sarvas and Pat Noonan, who aren't eligible for the Galaxy's CCL games, fit nicely into this schedule.
Arena says it's no big deal.
“You got to have a feel for [knowing who and when the rotate in the lineup], and we have to check the players,” he said. “There's no science to it. Anyone who tells you they've got this stuff all down pat is full of [crap]. They're all full of [crap] if they tell you they got the whole thing figured out.
“It's always a bit of a guessing game. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. The guys who are right more than not do a little better. That's the challenge. We know the patterns and characteristics of some of our players, where there's never a doubt about them, and some that you question and maybe you make a change.
“It's early in the season. We're starting to get our team pretty healthy, so if we have to make changes, we'll make changes.”
RSL almost certainly will make changes; from one to five starters will sit out. “We're excited,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando told the Deseret News. “We'd like to be a little more healthy. We just want to get the wheels going and to play that first game and get it underneath our belt and get the season underway.”
WORTH NOTING: Rookie Tommy Meyer is a good bet to make his first-team debut, with Andrew Boyens back in the middle for Wednesday's second leg against TFC at HDC. … RSL saw departures of eight players during the offseason, including veterans Andy Williams, Robbie Russell, Arturo Alvarez and Collen Warner. “Our depth is young,” general manager Garth Lagerwey told the Deseret News. “We think it's more talented, we think it's more athletic, we think it has more long-term potential, but if we have to play a lot of young guys in the beginning of the season, we may struggle a little bit with that. ... If we're all patient, I think we're going to be OK.” … The Galaxy will unveil Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup banners before the game. Players will get their MLS Cup championship rings before next Sunday's game against D.C. United. … Monday's MLS Reserve League game against Chivas USA has been postponed, with no new date yet determined.
REAL SALT LAKE
Head coach: Jason Kreis
Key players: M Javier Morales, M Kyle Beckerman, D Jamison Olave, G Nick Rimando, F Fabian Espindola.
Local guys: Rimando (Montclair/UCLA), D Tony Beltran (Claremont/UCLA), M Luis Gil (Garden Grove), G Kyle Reynish (Valencia/UC Santa Barbara)
Update: The Utahns are one of the real contenders for MLS's prizes this year, possessing great talent around the field, the best center-back pairing in the league and a dynamic midfield headed by enchanted playmaker Morales. They head into their opener rather beat up -- Morales isn't certain, two starting defenders are doubtful, midfielder Will Johnson is out, and one of the first-choice forwards is iffy -- and still looking for their attack after scoring five goals in six preseason games.
Out: F Adam Cristman (concussion), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), M Bryan Jordan (left hamstring strain), D Leonardo (right ACL/LCL tears), M Kyle Nakazawa (tonsillectomy), M Jose Villarreal (bilateral lower leg surgery).
REAL SALT LAKE
Out: M Will Johnson (right adductor strain).
Doubtful: D Nat Borchers (left quadriceps strain), D Chris Wingert (facial laceration).
Questionable: M Javier Morales (right quadriceps strain), F Alvaro
Saborio (right knee internal injury), M Jonny Steele (left knee internal injury.
Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
Referee: Kevin Stott
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: K-Talk (KTLK-AM/1150, English) and ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)