Galaxy forward Robbie Keane finished fourth in the league in scoring with… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)
The Galaxy's David Beckham Era ended in December with a second consecutive Major Soccer League title.
So Sunday afternoon a new era will begin when the Galaxy players, after receiving their championship rings, embark on a quest for more jewelry and a league-record third straight championship. Their MLS journey begins at the Home Depot Center against the Chicago Fire.
But Beckham won't be the only big name not in uniform. Landon Donovan — who scored the winning goal in each of those MLS Cup finals — may show up to get his ring, but he won't be suiting up, continuing a self-imposed sabbatical that included a recent 10-day trip to Cambodia, where he apparently sought spiritual enlightenment.
And although as much as a third of the season could be gone before Donovan is ready to return to the lineup, his absence might not keep the Galaxy from another championship. If he comes back even close to the form he displayed the last two seasons, when he had 21 goals and 17 assists, the Galaxy has the potential to be the best in league history.
"This season is going to be a great challenge for our team on the field and our organization off the field," Coach Bruce Arena said. "But we have a nucleus of players that are motivated to continue our winning tradition. I'm confident that as the season progresses, our team will move forward and be positioned for a run in the playoffs."
A lot will have to go right to make that prophecy come true. But look at the pieces Arena has to play with:
The Galaxy got its first full season out of Irish star Robbie Keane last year and he responded with 16 goals and nine assists, ranking among the top nine in both MLS categories. Eleven of those goals and six of the assists came in the final 16 regular-season games, when Keane carried the Galaxy to a 10-2-4 mark and a playoff berth. (Donovan, by the way, missed five of those games, but the Galaxy went unbeaten with Keane, who will inherit the captain's armband from Donovan, notching two goals and three assists.)
Until Donovan returns — he's expected to rejoin the Galaxy at the end of the month — Arena could pair Keane up front with either veteran Mike Magee or one of two precocious teenagers, Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal.
In the midfield, Brazilians Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho proved in the preseason they have the potential to be a potent duo. Colin Clark, acquired from Houston in the off-season, figures to start on one wing with either Magee or defender Sean Franklin slotting in on the other side.
The back line could actually be the team's strength. With Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Todd Dunivant all healthy again — they started only eight games together last summer — and with Tommy Meyer's rookie jitters behind him, the Galaxy has the best group of defenders in the league. And behind them the team added veteran goaltender Carlo Cudicini.
Once the top keeper in the English Premier League, Cudicini is not the player he was in his prime. But at 39 he can make up for whatever he may lack athletically through smarts and experience.
Plus he knows what it's like to try to repeat as a champion, having played on a Chelsea team that won consecutive Premier League titles.
"You [are] a big target. And everyone really puts the maximum effort to try to beat you," he said. "That makes things much more difficult. Not that I want to have excuses. But it's definitely going to be a tough task for us."
Speaking of tough tasks, after Sunday's MLS opener, the Galaxy will play Herediano of Costa Rica twice within six days in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Galaxy won the competition under a different format in 2000, but hasn't made it past the quarterfinals since.