COLUMBUS CREW STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (HDNet; FSC, FSN)
Two teams who begin the campaign wondering if this could be the year once again open the season, just as they did two seasons ago. The Columbus Crew won the MLS Supporters' Shield with the league's best record for the first time in club history last year - and yet were unceremoniously dumped out in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Los Angeles Galaxy are hoping with a full year under his belt, Steve Sampson can take that club back to the MLS Cup Final - where they haven't been in two years, after winning a first title in four trips to the title game.
REFEREE: Mark Geiger. SAR (bench): Rob Fereday; JAR (opposite): Richard Eddy; 4th: Terry Vaughn
MLS Career: 3 games; FC/gm: 32.0; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 0; pens: 3
Games involving Crew: P2 W2 L0 T0; FC/gm: 28.0; Y/gm: 4.5; R: 0; pens: 1
Games involving Galaxy: P1 W0 L1 T0; FC/gm: 27.0; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 0; pens: 1
INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Stephen Herdsman (groin strain); MF Duncan Oughton (R knee); DF Chris Wingert (groin/abdomen strain); PROBABLE: FW Ante Razov (L thigh strain); MF Frankie Hejduk (R ankle sprain); FW Edson Buddle (L ankle sprain) ... LOS ANGELES GALAXY - .QUESTIONABLE: FW Alan Gordon (R hip strain); PROBABLE: MF Cobi Jones (R Achilles strain); FW Joseph Ngwenya (R groin strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
ALL-TIME (22 meetings): Crew 10 wins (3 shootout), 31 goals ... Galaxy 8 wins, 29 goals ... 4 draws
IN COLUMBUS: (9 meetings): Crew 5 wins (1 shootout), 17 goals ... Galaxy 1 wins (0 shootout), 12 goals ... 3 draws
The two teams once again open the season against each other, in the first of their two meetings this season. They meet for the only time in Ohio on May 25.
A year ago, each team won once in their three encounters, the third meeting a draw. The Galaxy claimed a 2-0 victory on April 24 at The Home Depot Center as Carlos Ruiz hit for both goals (58, 82), then the teams played to a scoreless draw on Aug. 14 on Victoria Street in Sigi Schmid's last match in charge.
The Crew claimed a 3-1 victory in the only match at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, as Ross Paule hit for his first career hat trick (26, 43, 68 pen) with Joseph Ngwenya hitting for the Galaxy (47+).
Before the Crew's victory in the final meeting a year ago, they hadn't won in five meetings. The teams played to a 1-1 draw in Columbus on First Kick 2003 before three consecutive Galaxy victories, then another draw.
The visiting team last won in the series four years ago, when Columbus won 2-0 at the Rose Bowl in the final of the two 2001 meetings (July 4). That's the only away victory in the series over the last four seasons.
The Galaxy haven't won in Columbus since the 1998 season, and have never won in Crew Stadium. Over the six matches played in Columbus in that stretch, the teams have played to draws in three (with a fourth decided by a post-match shootout).
Coaches record: Greg Andrulis vs. LA: P10 W3 L4 D3 ... Steve Sampson v CLB: P1 W0 L1 T0
Despite all the success of a season ago, there is a bit of a feeling of unfinished business surrounding the Crew from a year ago. An MLS-record 18-game unbeaten streak, the Eastern Conference regular season and Supporters' Shield sent the club into the playoffs on a high - then ending with a resounding thud. But the nucleus of the squad that achieved that success a year ago all return, with the addition of Ante Razov to bolster the strike spearhead.
The Crew completed their preseason schedule with a 3-0 loss to D.C. United in the final match of the Carolina Challenge Cup, as Mike Petke, Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno hit home for United. In the tournament, Columbus drew 1-1 with San Jose while defeating the USL First Division Charleston Battery.
Here's the team Crew coach Greg Andrulis ran out: Bill Gaudette, Robin Fraser, Taylor Graham (Manny Lagos 62), Domenic Mediate, Ryan Kelley, Simon Elliott, Ross Paule (Eric Vazquez 76), Kyle Martino, Knox Cameron (Marcus Storey 60), Devin Barclay (Dante Washington 46), David Testo (Ante Razov 67)
"We still have to get four or five starters ready to play," said Kyle Martino. "The guys that have stepped in have filled roles that are big shoes to fill. It's a lot to ask of rookies and new guys. It's a rocky start, but we got guys experience that we are going to need to come in at the end of games, and later on in the season."
Andrulis had real difficulty making a lineup in Charleston, with the number of injuries and national team call-ups in his squad. Goalkeeper Jon Busch and defender Chad Marshall were with the U.S. team in preparation for the World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico and Guatemala, while midfielder Danny Szetela just returned to the team after playing with the U.S. under-20 team in a tournament in South Korea.
In the back, he had some real problems as Robin Fraser has been slowed by offseason knee surgery, Steven Herdsman will not be available until at least May with a groin injury, and Frankie Hejduk hasn't been available for a month with an ankle injury. In addition, Duncan Oughton hasn't been available for full duty after offseason knee surgery of his own.
The first-choice strike force of Ante Razov and Edson Buddle had only played together in one game until pairing again in the first game in Charleston, but Buddle suffered an injury (after Razov has missed much of the preseason) and their availability could be in question.
Still, there has been a positive in all the absences. "In some respects we're way ahead of where we want to be in terms of development of the younger players," Andrulis told The Dispatch.
Martino joined the team in Charleston after a month in camp with the U.S. national team. With the addition of Ante Razov to partner Edson Buddle in attack, he is expected to reprise his midfield role despite a great run last season as a deep-lying forward playing off Buddle. "Kyle's shown he can play a variety of positions well for us," Andrulis told The Columbus Dispatch.
A year ago, the Crew lost at home 3-1 to the MetroStars in the season opener (Hejduk 30 - Magee 40, Wolyniec 52, Guevara 88).
The Crew haven't won in their last six season openers. The last time they took three points to begin a campaign was 1998, a 2-1 victory against Tampa Bay Mutiny. Since, the Crew have lost four opening contests (1999: 0-1 v MetroStars; 2000: 1-5 v Tampa Bay; 2002: 0-2 v Chicago and last year) and drawn two (2001: 1-1 v Chicago, and 2003: 1-1 v Los Angeles).
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
With the full winter to rebuild his club, Galaxy coach Steve Sampson has done just that and takes the field in his first full season in charge with a retooled squad. The biggest change in the offseason came just before the season opener, when Landon Donovan returned to MLS and joined the club while Galaxy goal-man Carlos Ruiz was sent to Dallas.
The final piece of the rebuilding finally came together on Thursday, when Landon Donovan came to MLS after playing for Bayer 04 Leverkusen in Germany's Bundesliga for four months. The German club had loaned Donovan to MLS for four seasons before he returned following the 2004 season, playing in nine matches for the club. In four seasons in MLS, Donovan has 32 goals in 87 league games.
"I had a conversation [with the Galaxy] before I left for Germany, and they knew I was leaving, and they didn't know how long it would be, but they made it abundantly clear that they wanted me here," Donovan said. "I came out of that meeting more convinced than I've ever been about almost anything in my life. The situation in Germany definitely didn't go as planned. I need to play soccer, not only for my professional career, but for me personally. It makes me happy. And sitting on the bench anywhere is not fun for me."
On Wednesday, the Galaxy pulled off a stunning deal, sending Carlos Ruiz to FC Dallas for an allocation. Ruiz had scored 50 goals in 72 appearances in his three seasons in MLS, his goal in extra time in the 2002 MLS Cup Final giving the club their first victory in four trips to the championship game.
The trade of Ruiz means that seven regular starters from a year ago are now no longer with the club: defenders Ryan Suarez, Danny Califf and Hong Myung-Bo, midfielders Sasha Victorine and Andreas Herzog, and forward Arturo Torres along with the Guatemalan international.
The Galaxy defeated USL First Division (second tier) Fresno Fuego 3-0 in their final match of the preseason on Saturday, March 26. Peter Vagenas scored a pair goals, in the 16th and from the penalty spot in the 57th minute, before Guillermo Gonzalez completed the scoreline with a 79th-minute strike.
Here's Steve Sampson's team on the night: Josh Saunders, Ben Benditson, Troy Roberts, Tyrone Marshall, Todd Dunivant (Paul Broome 46), Cobi Jones (Herculez Gomez 58), Peter Vagenas, Paulo Nagamura, Josh Gardner (Mamba Chisoni 10), Naldo (Guillermo Gonzalez 73), Ned Grabavoy (Michael Enfield 67)
While it won't yet affect the club, if there is a real concern in the Galaxy additions in the back it's that the entire first-choice back four could be missing at the same time come international dates.
Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and right back Chris Albright have been in the U.S. national team camp in preparation for their recent World Cup qualifiers, while the club's two Costa Rican signings - central defender Michael Umaña and left back Pablo Chinchilla - are also in that country's pool. Center back Tyrone Marshall will also miss time with Jamaica, especially in this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Guillermo Ramirez played the full match in both of Guatemala's World Cup qualifiers last week, scoring on Saturday in a 5-1 home victory against Trinidad & Tobago. He didn't have the same luck in the 2-0 loss to the USA in Birmingham, Ala.
A year ago, the Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution 3-2 on Victoria Street to open the season (Ruiz 30, Herzog 59, Kirovski 69 - Heaps 48, Noonan 68). The Galaxy have lost just twice on Opening Day, coming in 1997 (0-0 SOL v D.C. United) and 2001 (2-3 v San Jose Earthquakes).