Preseason is an experiment. Preseason is about throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, it’s about giving minutes to players who otherwise wouldn’t see them, about finding a form and fitness and getting a feel for the field. Preseason is warm-up.

Tomorrow’s the real thing.

“I think we’re ready to play. Obviously this time of the year teams don’t have their full fitness, aren’t fully coordinated, but we’ve had a good preseason. Our team is dying to get on the field and play in a game that means something.”
—Bruce Arena, speaking with CoG.

And what a fitting beginning to the 2014 campaign. The LA Galaxy play at home against Real Salt Lake. That’s right, RSL — the guys who brought a quick end to LA’s playoff hopes just a few months ago. The first game of any season isn’t terribly important. In any other year you could argue the first game is just an extension of preseason; just another chance to fine-tune the squad. This year though? It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a heightened aura of emotional stakes permeating the locker room.

For LA, this is a chance to put last year’s disappointments behind them. For LA, this is a chance for a little bit of payback.

Tomorrow is our first glimpse at the retooled Galaxy line-up. It’s only a glimpse — only 90 precious minutes — and I want to help you make the most of them. So here’s what to keep an eye on.

ROBBIE KEANE RETURNS
Last season’s MVP is still a big question mark for Saturday. Robbie Keane took advantage of an extended offseason to finally fix his Achilles’ heel, which, appropriately, was two damaged Achilles’ tendons. He went 70 minutes in the White vs Blue friendly and I’ve heard he put a full 90 into LA’s closed-door scrimmage against Minnesota United FC he played 70 minutes against Minnesota. But we haven’t seen Robbie against an MLS-quality defense. Tomorrow’s going to tell us a lot about how game-ready the captain really is.

THE NEW PLAN
Every move LA’s made in the offseason is aimed toward a rethinking of how the Galaxy move the ball around the field. Donovan shunted back to the left wing. Signing two potential target forwards to pair up with Keane — to get defenders off his back. Seeking out a legitimate right winger (and then likely settling for Zardes). We’ve talked about this before: Bruce’s big plan is to shake up the Galaxy’s attack with an eye toward unpredictability. If it works, it’ll put RSL’s back line on their heels, scrambling to compensate. If it doesn’t we’re going to need a new plan ASAP.

A SHAKY DEFENSE
There’s one criticism we’ve heard repeated throughout the preseason: LA’s defense are too often out of position, too often chasing their marks and making dangerous tackles. LA’s suffered some real losses on the back line. They gave up right-back mainstay Sean Franklin in the re-entry draft, and longtime left back Todd Dunivant has been out on injury. So far A.J. DeLaGarza and James Riley have done an admirable job filling in. Tomorrow will test that.

They’ll have two tasks. First, shut down RSL’s captain and playmaker, midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Secondly they need to contain Alvaro Saborio, a striker fresh off a red-hot season that saw him tally 12 goals. Hopefully Dunivant is back in action — but that’s a tall order for anyone on day one.

 

THE LINEUP
KEY – Likely starter, first sub.

GK
Jaime Penedo, Brian Perk

DEFENSE
RD – A.J. DeLaGarza, Oscar Sorto
CD – Omar Gonazalez, Leonardo, Kofi Opare
LD – James Riley, Todd Dunivant

MIDFIELD
RM – Gyasi Zardes, Stefan Ishizaki
CM – Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Baggio Husidic
LM – Landon Donovan, Marcelo Sarvas shifts over.

FORWARD
Robbie Keane, Rob Friend, Samuel

 

TAKE A DEEP BREATH —
— and put this in perspective. It’s the first game of a long season. It’s arguably not even the most important game within the week. As sweet as revenge can be, MLS doesn’t award extra points for it (…yet). LA could totally tank on Saturday and still go on to have a very successful year.

But yeah, it’d feel good to win. It’d set a tone. It’d say a lot about the preseason progress. And it’d give me a great excuse to spend Saturday night celebrating.

7:30PM, StubHub Center. I’ll see you there — and if not, meet me right here for the recap.

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