Although it's hard to believe, the MLS offseason is already over. Just a few short months ago, Guillermo Ramirez scored in extra time to give the Los Angeles Galaxy their second MLS Cup in club history. Now in early February, the second decade of MLS soccer is set to begin in the Southland.
Barely two weeks into their preseason training, the Galaxy will face off against a team that could provide the sternest test for the Green and Gold for the entire season, as they welcome the South Korea national team Wednesday night to The Home Depot Center.
South Korea advanced to the semifinals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and is in preparation for this year's tournament in Germany. Neither team is likely to be at full strength for Wednesday night's game. For the Galaxy, Ugo Ihemelu, Todd Dunivant, Landon Donovan and Kevin Hartman are currently in camp with the U.S. national team. In addition, both Chris Albright and Peter Vagenas are doubtful with injuries.
South Korea isn't at full strength either, with six European-based players not with the team. Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson thinks that might just play to the advantage of the Asians, who will field a roster of players on the bubble and desperately trying to make a World Cup squad.
"Sometimes that's even more difficult because these are the guys on the bubble as far as making the World Cup squad for Korea," said Sampson. "They're going to be fighting the hardest to win a spot; sometimes they're the most dangerous teams to play against."
The biggest question mark for the Galaxy heading into the match is in the back line. Of the four regular defensive starters from last year and the regular starting goalkeeper, only Tyrone Marshall will be suiting up for the Galaxy. In fact, two of last year's top defensive options off the bench for Sampson -- Pablo Chinchilla and Michael Umaña -- are no longer with the Galaxy either. It will be a difficult baptism for some of the younger defenders on this year's Galaxy team who will be called upon to contribute quite a bit later on this season.
"We're two weeks into our preseason, just trying to get into game condition, so it probably won't be as clean as we want it to be. If we can keep things organized and keep the ball in front of us and slow the pace down then we have a chance," said Marshall.
"Myself and Troy (Roberts) are the two guys from last year who are going to be on the back line. This kid Nate Sturgis is pretty decent. He's a young guy but looks to be promising. We're going to see if we can hold it together. It's a makeshift back line."
It's not just the rearguard that will look decidedly different than the opening day starters. The Galaxy isn't realistically looking to come out firing on all cylinders. In fact, the coaching staff is looking at this game as an opportunity to see where their younger players are, technically and physically, against a very good opponent.
"We've been in training for 12 days now and we're playing against a team that's very experienced," Sampson said. "This is an opportunity to see where we're at. The technical speed of the Koreans will be more than we'll see at any other time of the year. It will be a great test for us and we'll be able to take from this exactly what we need to work on."
The match will also mark the return of former Galaxy defender Hong Myung-Bo to The Home Depot Center. The all-time leader for South Korea in national team appearances, he is currently a member of the coaching staff for the Koreans.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.