Just like any other season opener both teams will look to have a fast and strong start to the game and to the season. A win for either team could have a positive effect on the rest of the 2013 campaign, as it's always nice to get off on the right foot.
Both teams ended their 2012 seasons in different fashions. The Fire bowed out in the Eastern Conference play-in game against the Houston Dynamo. On the other hand, the Galaxy won the Western Conference play-in game and eventually the MLS Cup over the Houston Dynamo.
Both teams have the same core of players that ended the 2012 season returning in 2013. Here is how I think both teams will lineup their starting XI:
Los Angeles (4-4-2)
Los Angeles comes in making a few changes from their MLS Cup starting XI. Gone are goalie Josh Saunders (now with RSL), midfielders Wilhelmsson and Beckham (both back to Europe) and Landon Donovan (taking a Ricky Williams-esque vacation), and forward Edson Buddle (now with Colorado). Coming in to replace some of these players are goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini and Colin Clark. Other than that the Galaxy are going to rely on the depth of their squad from 2012.
Chicago also comes in making a few changes to the starting XI that lost to Houston in the play-in game. Gone are midfielders Alvaro Fernandez (on loan in Qatar) and Pavel Pardo (retired). Coming in are Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, and Dilly Duka. I think the best starting XI that Klopas can field is one that does not involve team captain Logan Pause. He has been loyal to the organization for many years and I have nothing but respect for him, it is just that with the players that we now have he may have to accept a substitute role. Other than those changes the Fire come in with a solid core of players.
Last year Frank Klopas mainly employed a 4-5-1 formation using 2 defensive midfielders at all times. This style of play fueled a possession game that worked the attack out of the back, mainly on counter attacks. With the additions that Frank and company made during the off season we could see a change to a more direct 4-4-2 formation, while still keeping the same style of play. I look to have Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz do the dirty work in the center of the park in order to free up the wings and the two forwards up top. I also expect to see Larentowicz take over the defensive midfield role that was held by both Pause and Pardo in 2012. Lindpere will be very involved in the offense, almost as a #10, as he will free up space for Rolfe, MacDonald, Nyarko, and Duka.
Los Angeles, who is coached by Bruce Arena, will probably not change their style of play from 2012. The only exception is that all of the possession from their backline will now go through Juninho instead of Donovan or Beckham. The Galaxy attack will have to go through Keane, at least for the first part of the season, as he is the most dangerous goal scorer the Galaxy have at the moment.
- Berry and Friedrich vs. Keane: Last year during the only meeting with LA, Keane played like a man possessed as LA came into Chicago and left with 3 points pretty easily. This was without Beckham who was suspended and Donovan who subbed into the game late in the match. If Berry and Friedrich can keep Keane in check, then this will disrupt the Galaxy attack and force Bruce Arena to change his tactics. With Beckham gone and Donovan on sabbatical, that leaves a lot of the scoring and creating burden to Keane.
- Juninho vs. Lindpere: The Fire's new box to box center midfielder goes up against one of the more solid holding midfielders in the league. With the Fire looking to create some offense through the center of the park, Lindpere will have to be involved. Juninho is known as a player that can shut down plays coming through the middle and effectively kill attacks in the center. If he is able to stop Lindpere, then the only option for Frank is to play through the wings which we saw last year. This also makes this team too one dimensional. If Lindpere is able to get the better of Juninho it would kill the Galaxy attack and force them to start playing more defensive.
There are 2 rookies that may feature in Sunday's game that you should keep an eye on. The Galaxy may play their homegrown product Jose Villarreal. The 19 year old could surprise everybody as the rookie of the year. After a good showing in the CONCACAF U-20 World Cup Qualifying tournament the past couple of weeks, he may slide into the Galaxy team as a starter later on this season. Look for him to come in off the bench on Sunday to get his first taste of MLS action.
After selecting Yazid Atouba with the 30th overall selection in this year's Superdraft, The Fire signed the 20 year old Cameroonian to a contract Friday. Look for him to come in to the match in the second half replacing one of the wings. Atouba has the necessary tools that can make him Nyarko 2.0. In preseason he showed that he deserved a contract and that he can be a force in this league. I can see him competing for the starting job opposite Nyarko this season but he will have to work hard for that opportunity.
Both teams will be looking to get off to a good start for their respective 2013 campaign. The Galaxy wants to have a good showing on opening day, especially at home. Chicago, on the other hand, wants to ruin the party when LA gives out their rings. If the Fire can give an all out team effort and take out the important pieces on the Galaxy than they will be able to do what the Chicago Blackhawks did to the Kings on their special day. I can see a 2-0 win for the Fire with goals from Duka and Lindpere.