Even though the MLS Cup Final was played nearly three weeks ago -- and the 2005 season opener is still four months away -- the Los Angeles Galaxy return to The Home Depot Center field this Friday night for an exhibition match against Mexican side CD Necaxa. While the match is labeled as a "friendly", it does hold some importance for both the Galaxy and MLS.
The Galaxy head into the match with the intention of playing some of their younger players. Most notably, Alan Gordon, a young striker who joined the team this past season after tearing up the scoring charts in the A-League, will likely play a significant role in the match. Earlier this week, the club exercised the option on his contract to keep him in the fold for next season.
At 6-foot-3, Gordon is a big striker by anyone's standard in any league around the world, but especially in MLS. Alecko Eskandarian, Carlos Ruiz and Landon Donovan are some of the big name strikers across the league -- and none are listed above 5-foot-9.
"I'm sure I'll get some time," Gordon said. "They (the coaching staff) haven't told us specifically the lineup, but we are missing a lot of guys, especially up top."
Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson played a modified 4-4-2 as he finished out the 2004 campaign, with one of his strikers playing a more withdrawn role. But that really operated more as a 4-5-1, with Carlos Ruiz as the lone target striker up top. But as the season wound down, Ruiz had a hard time getting good service as the front runner.
If Gordon can establish himself in the target role, Ruiz may be able to drop back as that withdrawn striker, and use his speed to exploit the space that the big striker would be creating. Gordon knows that that job of earning that starting role for next season begins on Friday night.
"It's a confidence boost, and I have to just work hard and try and get into the starting lineup," he said.
Another new face to look out for is assistant coach Martin Vasquez. He will be taking the reins in Friday night's game as Sampson left midweek to go on a scouting trip in South America. Vasquez was quick to reiterate the importance of giving the younger guys a look in the upcoming game.
"The objective is to win the game," he said. "But our young guys, we need to see them, especially looking towards next year."
Vasquez is also well aware that opportunities have been extended beyond the playing field.
"I understand my role," he said. "I'm going to do my best, and try and take advantage of the opportunity to keep growing as a coach."
Beyond the chance for a few new faces to show they belong, it will also be one more chance for one of the league's clubs to show they belong and can compete with the more established teams in this region of the world.
"Necaxa is a well respected opponent," said Vasquez. "If we can win, then we have something we (MLS) can brag about."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.