The advent of the Reserve Division in MLS has given coaches around the league something they have sorely needed since 1996 -- the chance to develop their young talent in real games, without throwing them to the wolves that roam the MLS stadiums every Saturday.
In years gone by rookies and second-team players rarely got a touch on the ball outside of training. This year all that has changed, and Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson is all smiles.
"I love it," said the Galaxy head man. "It's the best thing to happen to soccer here in a long time."
This past Sunday, the Galaxy reserves took on and defeated Real Salt Lake's reserve side 4-2. Names like Memo (Gonzalez), Naldo (da Conceicao), Herculez (Gomez) and Mamba (Chisoni) dotted the lineup for the Green and Gold.
Some of those names don't even appear on the Saturday roster of 20 available players, and the ones who do usually don't see the field until very late in the match.
It's the usefulness of the reserve league that makes this week so interesting for the Galaxy.
With the Galaxy having a weekend off from league affairs, the club has scheduled two exhibition games. On Wednesday, they will travel to the Pacific Northwest to face the Portland Timbers of the USL First Division (second tier), and then a second match on Saturday against the USL-PDL (fourth tier) side San Diego Gauchos in Oxnard, Calif.
In the past, these games would have served as an opportunity for Steve Sampson to take a look at his bench in a live game situation. This year however, things have changed.
"It's a chance to stay sharp," said Sampson. "It's a chance to give guys who need minutes, minutes."
In training this week, Sampson hinted that his lineup against the second level side in Portland would consist of about 70 percent of his regular starting squad. Some key names will be missing though. Portland plays on an artificial surface, and the Galaxy boss doesn't want any players to re-aggravate any injuries.
"We're playing on turf. So the guys we feel shouldn't play wont be with us," Sampson said.
Two of the more noticeable players scratched from Wednesday night's game in Portland are Cobi Jones and Jovan Kirovski.
The return leg, so to speak, of this week's two friendlies will most likely feature the exact opposite kind of lineup, as a team comprised of mostly second-team players will take on San Diego.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.