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Galaxy schedule brings challenge

With overlapping schedules in the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS, L.A. opens its MLS season Saturday night against Real Salt Lake in the second of four games it will be playing in a 12-day stretch.

March 09, 2012|By Kevin Baxter
  • Galaxy midfielder David Beckham warms up before a CONCACAF Champions League game against Toronto FC on Wednesday.
Galaxy midfielder David Beckham warms up before a CONCACAF Champions League… (Chris Young / Canadian Press…)

The Major League Soccer schedule stretches into December for the first time this year, making the season more of a marathon than it's been in the past.

For the defending champion Galaxy, however, it's starting off with a sprint.

When the Galaxy opens its league season Saturday night at the Home Depot Center against Real Salt Lake, it will be playing the second of four games in a 12-day stretch, a test of stamina brought on by the overlapping schedules of the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS.

"It is what it is," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said after Friday's hourlong practice. "It's odd to me but that's the way it is. So we have to deal with it."

Which isn't to say they can't complain about it. No MLS team has ever won the CONCACAF tournament — and the two that won the similarly formatted CONCACAF Champions Cup failed to win the league title in the same season. Arena says he knows why.

"Our rosters are not yet of enough quality to be able to take on these extra games," he says. "We probably don't schedule it as a priority."

But if the schedule looms as a challenge for Arena's team, it's also been beneficial. Last Wednesday's CONCACAF quarterfinal match in Toronto, for example, provided a dress rehearsal for the Galaxy, which worked out a few bugs after bringing its entire roster together for the first time this year in the 2-2 draw.

"We need to tighten up on our defensive responsibilities throughout the team. But I think overall, the first game, new players, we were pretty good," said midfielder David Beckham, who is entering his sixth season with the Galaxy, second only to captain Landon Donovan in terms of consecutive service.

Among those still trying to establish team chemistry are strikers Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle, who have never played together. Ditto A.J. DeLaGarza, who is playing in the central defense without Omar Gonzalez for the first time since his sophomore year of college.

DeLaGarza is likely to be paired with rookie Tommy Meyer on Saturday. But whoever is back there will be tested by Real Salt Lake, a playoff semifinalist last year when it finished third in the Western Conference in scoring.

And you can expect Arena to try out other lineup combinations — as well as substitutions — in an effort to rest his starters during the Galaxy's challenging opening stretch.

"We have to be smart. If we have to rotate some people, we'll rotate some people," he said. "There's no science to this."

Yet Beckham, at 36 the oldest player on Arena's roster, says he'll be ready to go whenever the schedule says so.

"We're fit as a team. And we've got strength and depth throughout our club, so it shouldn't be a problem," he said. "It's not ideal. But we're also excited about the season opener. We have to deal with it."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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