While there were many new faces in the Los Angeles Galaxy camp this winter, one familiar face that was missing was veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. He wasn't away trying to win a lucrative contract overseas like so many of his MLS counterparts this offseason. He was busy representing his country with the national team.
In his time away, Hartman traveled with the USA for both of their World Cup qualifiers and earned a cap against Honduras in an international friendly -- an achievement not lost on the Galaxy stalwart.
"Anytime you represent your country it's an honor. But I think it's becoming more of an honor," said Hartman. "It's a more difficult thing to do. The quality of the league has gotten better, and the quality of the American player has gotten better."
Training for a month with the best the United States has to offer helped Hartman hone his game for this upcoming season as well.
"It's allowed me to get my game together because I was playing day in and day out with guys that are the tops in the league," Hartman said.
This season's campaign started off on a sour note however. A 3-0 defeat at the hands of Columbus left the Galaxy 'keeper looking helpless at times last weekend. Trying to organize a re-tooled defense that speaks two different languages is going to be tough.
"There's going to be a learning curve," Hartman said. "Unfortunately last week we learned it's going to be very important for us to work together better as a unit."
The road doesn't get any easier this week either. Hartman now has to try and keep Jason Kreis, Clint Mathis, and Andy Williams from finding the back of the net when Real Salt Lake come to town in this weekend's home opener. But in reality, there are no weeks off in MLS anymore, and Hartman knows this.
"It's a good league. I don't think we're going to have any easy weeks," said Hartman. "The exception being the third weekend of the season."
Who do the Galaxy play that third weekend? It's a trick question, as the Galaxy actually have a bye week April 16.
U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena now has recognized Hartman as one of the league's best. His club coach will now rely on him to come up big while his defense learns to play together in the early parts of this season.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.