A new team in Seattle and planned 2011 expansion clubs in Portland and Vancouver up the ante for the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
By Grahame L. Jones
Actor, comedian and Galaxy season ticket holder Drew Carey wanted a marching band, so he got one.
As minority owner of Major League Soccer's newest team, the Seattle Sounders, Carey led the band on a four-block march from Pioneer Square to Qwest Field on Thursday night, and then watched along with a sellout throng of 32,523 scarf-waving fans as the newly minted Sounders trounced the New York Red Bulls, 3-0.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles' two MLS teams open their 2009 campaigns this weekend, with Chivas USA launching its fifth season against the Colorado Rapids at the Home Depot Center tonight at 7:30 and the Galaxy facing D.C. United at noon Sunday, also in Carson.
But this entire week has upped the ante for the Galaxy and Chivas. Consider:
* On Wednesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the league would add a team in Vancouver, Canada, in 2011.
* On Thursday, the Sounders, under former UCLA and Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid, looked like anything but an expansion team as they cut apart last season's league runners-up.
* On Friday, Garber announced that MLS would add a team in Portland, Ore., in 2011.
Suddenly, the Western Conference isn't what it used to be. The addition of the Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers will make things a lot more competitive on and off the field.
Already, Seattle has sold 22,000 season tickets, more than the Galaxy and Chivas USA combined. Already, the Sounders have a victory, three points and a star, 21-year-old Colombian striker Fredy Montero, who scored twice in his MLS debut.
Seattle's success and the atmosphere around the game drew nothing but praise in Carson on Friday. "It was awesome," said Chivas USA forward Alecko Eskandarian. "The crowd was spectacular. It was really just great to see how enthusiastic the fans were."
"Phenomenal," said Galaxy forward Landon Donovan.
So any thoughts that Chivas USA Coach Preki or Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena might have had about taking and holding the high ground in the West now will have to be reconsidered.
Preki has done far less tinkering with his roster in the off-season than Arena, who has cleaned house.
Only four new players have been added to Chivas USA's ranks, including Canadian international defender Ante Jazic, who was acquired in a trade with the Galaxy, and midfielder Michael Lahoud, 23, a 2007 NCAA champion at Wake Forest who was selected ninth overall in the 2009 MLS draft.
Of equal interest are the team's two new Mexican players, forward Eduardo Lillingston and midfielder Mariano Trujillo, both 31. "They have played quite a few games in Mexico, they're good additions to our team, and hopefully they can bring some spark to us," Preki said.
Some spark might be necessary. Chivas goes into its opener with five potential starters sidelined for another month or more -- forward Ante Razov, the league's No. 2 all-time goal scorer; defenders Bobby Burling and Lawson Vaughn; midfielder Sasha Victorine and backup goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
In addition, Jazic is recovering from a concussion, while Eskandarian and forward Maykel Galindo are also working their way back to match fitness.
"We're getting some guys slowly but surely back," Preki said. "I would expect in the next three to four weeks to have almost everybody back. That's really good news for us. It hasn't been like that for a long, long time."
Chivas got another boost Friday afternoon when former Mexico international defender Claudio Suarez, who retired earlier this month at age 40, agreed to reverse course and will begin training again with the team in the expectation of regaining a roster spot.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, has an entirely new look, one necessitated by three years without a playoff appearance. Arena spent the off-season tossing deadwood overboard, and of the 24 players on his opening-day roster, only 11 were with the team on the final day of the 2008 season.
The most notable of the new additions are Jamaican international goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (who is injured and will miss the game against D.C. United), rookie defenders Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza of NCAA champion Maryland, and veteran defenders Tony Sanneh and Todd Dunivant.
David Beckham, of course, won't be playing for the Galaxy until July.