When we last saw Major League Soccer in action, the Los Angeles Galaxy and New England Revolution were doing battle at Pizza Hut Park. After nearly 120 long minutes where neither team was able to gain an edge, the Galaxy found a goal from Guillermo Ramirez and reigned victorious with a 1-0 win, hoisting the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy for their second MLS Cup.
On Saturday, the 2006 MLS season kicks off, and the same two teams will begin their respective seasons in a rematch of last season's final, this time at The Home Depot Center in Carson.
Both sides will field teams almost identical to the ones that took the field last November in Frisco, Texas. For the Galaxy, Josh Gardner will be in the lineup on the left side of midfield (where Ned Grabavoy started in the final), but other than that, every other position will be patrolled by last year's starters.
What separates this opener from the others going on around the league is the fact that both teams participated in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, and are already battle tested and game ready. Preparation and familiarity has everyone in the Galaxy camp expecting another close game between last season's top two finishers.
"I think us and New England are ahead of schedule just because of the two games we've played," said Landon Donovan earlier this week in training. "We know exactly how they play. We know their players. It's not like Columbus or Chivas [starting the season] with a completely new team. We know what they're bringing and it's our job to get it done."
On paper, the Galaxy and the Revolution look to be two of the stronger MLS sides. Last season expectations waned in Los Angeles as the team faltered midseason, but the Galaxy pushed their doubters aside with their playoff run. This year, Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas and the rest of the Galaxy are looking to prove they are still among the league's elite.
"We're (Los Angeles and New England) two teams that I would have to say have been favorites in their divisions or forces to be reckoned with in the playoffs," said Vagenas. "We've worked hard to improve certain weaknesses we had. Hopefully that comes to fruition this Saturday."
One thing is for certain: the rigorous schedule the Galaxy played over the offseason has them poised to get off to a good start. Two games against Deportivo Saprissa in the Champions' Cup and an exhibition game against the South Korean national team have put the Galaxy ahead of the curve at this point in the year, according to head coach Steve Sampson.
"I think we're further along this time of year than we were last year at the same time," Sampson said. "We also know that New England and Chicago, our first two matches, are going to be tough."
Last season four of the first nine games for the Galaxy were against the two expansion sides. This year, the Galaxy face a much sterner test to open the season, and it doesn't get any tougher than this Saturday and the defending Eastern Conference Champions.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.