Bruce Arena's Los Angeles Galaxy will open up the home portion of their 2011 Major League Soccer season Sunday against the New England Revolution. The importance of keeping both feet on the ground could not be any more stressed, nor could the desire to avenge a 2-0 defeat to the Revs on July 10, 2010 in Foxborough, Mass.
Still, the Galaxy's 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders came with great difficulty, according to team captain Landon Donovan.
"There's not another team in this league who would go without their two starting center backs, their starting goalkeeper and one of their Designated Players and get a win here," Donovan said. "We're very proud of that."
Center backs Gregg Berhalter and Omar Gonzalez, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and forward Juan Pablo Angel were battling illness and injury, while the team braved a tough environment—literally and figuratively.
"We relish this," Donovan said. "If they want to open the upper deck and add more people to the stands, we would love it. We love this atmosphere, we love this environment, we love playing here."
Despite a partisan sellout crowd of 36,433 and torrents of rain, the Galaxy's Juninho scored the first league goal of the year off a delivery from Todd Dunivant.
He couldn't do it alone, though. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders made stop after stop, and the back line got right for one, clamping down on Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani, Alvaro Fernandez, O'Brian White and Company. His goalkeeping heroics could put LA in good hands for the first few months if he keeps this up.
"I prepared like it was any other day, but it was a good night for me," Saunders, who made six saves on Tuesday, said. "Look at our back line, and you can see our depth. You look at our back line, and you've got guys who've played in MLS Cup finals all the way through. They saved me a couple of times."
"Our back line is very good," Arena admitted. "I thought Leonardo and DeLaGarza had quite a good game, and Saunders had a good game in goal. For the night, it was a pretty steady performance by everyone."
"It’s not easy to play here. But it doesn't mean you can't win."
"Sure, Omar and Gregg weren't there," defender Sean Franklin said. "But the whole team stepped in. It shows Bruce has built a team where anyone can step in and play well."
New England has some capable players returning to the fold for the Revs.
Marko Perovic scored six goals to lead New England, while Zack Schilawski added five and long-time team favorite Shalrie Joseph scored four. Joseph and Kheli Dubs were the club's leading providers in 2010, chalking up five assists apiece, while Chris Tierney added four.
Perovic can finish when he has the ball and was instrumental in the Revs' victory over Los Angeles in July. They will need to break up the Galaxy's passing patterns, which were a complete mess on Tuesday.
Goalkeeper Matt Reis is expected to start Sunday for New England. He finished 2010 with a 1.79 goals against average, but had a 4-7-3 record; a big turnaround will need to be in order if the Revolution are to come out victorious.
As for the Galaxy, they had numerous chances to finish off their set pieces and had a few would-be goals sail wide. In fact, Chris Birchall nearly opened the scoring proceedings in the first minute against Seattle, so fans should know how capable this Galaxy side really is.
Prediction: Los Angeles Galaxy 2, New England Revolution 1
After getting right for once, the hunt for consistency begins in earnest. Omar Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Angel need to get healthy. If they are ready to play Sunday, it will add another element to an attack that has potential.
Better passing and communication, more of the same from Saunders and the back line and playing a tight game overall as a team will all be crucial in order for the Galaxy to secure their first win streak of the season.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. PT/8:00 p.m. ET and will be televised by Galavision and Fox Sports Prime Ticket on tape delay.