The 2015 Major League Soccer season is finally here, and it's getting a nice opening ovation in the form of the Los Angeles Galaxy hosting the Chicago Fire. The defending MLS champions are taking their first steps without Landon Donovan in a long time, and this match could go a long ways towards determining how their season looks. Who replaces him in the lineup? How do their tactics change? How do LA manage their midfield while they wait for Steven Gerrard to arrive this summer? A lot of those questions will start getting their answers today, and their importance is hard to under-estimate.
The Fire are bringing in a new-look attack after a significant restructuring of their roster over the winter, with three new Designated Players anchoring a faster and more talented forward group that should make a lot of noise in MLS even while Chicago wait for Mike Magree and Patrick Nyarko to return to health. There's questions about who fills what role in midfield, though, especially after Chicago's captain and former midfield anchor Jeff Larentowicz moved in to defense over the winter. That's a lot of change to adapt to in a hurry, and could have a profound impact on how this match plays out.
Key player - Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles)
With Donovan's shadow gone and his USMNT debut behind him, the time for Zardes to take the next step to stardom is now. How he operates and grows up top in LA's setup as they figure out how best to move on from the Donovan era will be crucial, and this first match will be a good test to see how he's progressing. Chicago have a good defense that will take some intelligent play from Zardes to unlock, not just dominating them athletically as he's been able to do at times in the past.
Key Matchup - Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles) vs. Kennedy Igboananike (Chicago)
Igboananike is the heart of Chicago's new-look attack, with the Nigerian DP looking set to start up top to try to spark the Fire in to an attacking revolution. He's a tricky and talented player, and it's going to be up to Gonzalez to stop him. LA's American international defender struggled with injuries and form last season, and is facing a firm test right out of the gate this season in Igboananike. This has the makings for a fun matchup, albeit one that would seem to favor Gonzalez somewhat while Chicago's new attack builds chemistry.
Los Angeles Galaxy injuries and suspensions
Out: None. In doubt: A.J. DeLaGarza (foot)
Chicago Fire injuries and suspensions
Out: Mike Magee (hip), Patrick Nyarko (knee) In doubt: David Accam (groin), Adailton (concussion), Alex (ankle), Razvan Cocis (foot)
The Galaxy are in pretty good shape injury-wise. The potential absence of DeLaGarza would deprive them of a starter in defense, but LA's depth on the back line is probably better right now than it's been in a very long time, so they can withstand him being out for a few matches. Chicago are hurting in attack, with Magee and Nyarko out as long-term absences -- though both are on the tail end of their recoveries -- and new DP signing Accam in doubt with a groin injury. Fortunately, the Fire put a lot of resources in to their attack this winter, so they should still be pretty potent going forward in this match.
Match Date/Time: Friday, 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. local
Venue: StubHub Center, Carson, California, USA
TV: UniMas, Univision Deportes
Online: Univision Deportes En Vivo, MLS Live