The fate of the Los Angeles Galaxy isn't going to fall on the usual suspects this season. Yes, Kevin Hartman, Tyrone Marshall, and Carlos Ruiz (read Landon Donovan if the rumors are true) will be guiding the Green-and-Gold throughout the season. However, one thing that each player has in common, aside from being a part of the first L.A. franchise, are their national team commitments this summer.
With World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup being in full swing this summer, as many as seven Galaxy starters could miss time with the club this season. Hartman and defender Chris Albright have found themselves with the U.S. national team for recent friendlies as well as qualifiers.
Add to that Ruiz and midfielder Guillermo Ramirez who play for Guatemala, and the Galaxy's two new Costa Rican defenders (Michael Umaña and Pablo Chinchilla), and you have a laundry list of missing players starting to develop.
Even if Ruiz is traded to FC Dallas and the Galaxy acquire Donovan (as has been speculated), you're just trading one national teamer for another.
Rounding out the magnificent seven is Tyrone Marshall. Despite the fact that Jamaica has already been knocked out of contention for Germany 2006, the Reggae Boyz will be playing in the Gold Cup, which invariably means no Marshall for at least a couple games this summer.
What does that all mean? It means that there are going to be a lot of holes to fill in the Galaxy lineup for a lot of games. Consistent play is what is expected from the seasoned professionals that will be in the regular starting lineup for Sampson's side, but it's the young players that the Galaxy have picked up this offseason and through the last couple of drafts that will have to stay the course if Los Angeles is going to get back to the Western Conference Final.
"We have a lot of depth now," the Galaxy skipper said last week in training. "And we're going to need that depth."
The biggest question mark for Sampson as far as depth is concerned has to be along the back line.
Although unlikely, it is possible that all four defensive starters could be away from the club at the same time this year. Compounding this problem is the fact that the Galaxy traded away Danny Califf and Ryan Suarez, both proven defenders.
It's not all bad news in defense though. Todd Dunivant was brought to L.A. from San Jose, and has shown in his short time in the league that he is a very capable defender. He doesn't seem to be too worried about depth either.
"We have a good mix here," Dunivant said. "A good group of veterans, and also a good crop of young guys."
Those young guys are going to have to grow up quick this season, because they will be asked to contribute well beyond the training field this year. Luckily the Galaxy coaching staff will have some time at the beginning of the season to get their troops game ready for later in the season.
"We are very pleased with the chemistry we are seeing," Sampson said. "The older guys are pushing the younger guys and vice versa."
That competitiveness shown by the rookies and second-year players -- and there are plenty of them on this squad -- is going to have to translate onto the playing field this season. Home field advantage is quintessential to the Galaxy's success in the playoffs, meaning points just can't be thrown away when their stars aren't available.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.