The Giovani Savarese era begins on Sunday night in Carson, CA, where the Portland Timbers will face the revamped LA Galaxy in the nightcap of Week 1 of the 2018 MLS season (7:00 p.m., TV on Fox Sports 1).
For both teams, the offseason saw significant change give way to significant hope. Just as it should be on the doorstep of a new season, expectations and anticipation are high.
Sigi Schmid spent the winter completely remaking what was in 2017 a broken Galaxy team, jettisoning 14 players and bringing in 12 others — including starters at goalkeeper, center back, right back, center mid, and forward — to replace them.
On paper, this team is hugely improved. They've got a ton of talent in their front six, which now includes Ola Kamara and Perry Kitchen, and in David Bingham have their first legitimate goalkeeper since Jaime Penado. Galaxy players and coaches have said that the atmosphere within the team — which was apparently poisonous last year — has improved.
All that said, it wasn't a great preseason for LA. They lost their last two games, against San Jose and Vancouver, and had serious trouble defending in the middle of the field with Michael Ciani looking, much as he did when he signed last year, like a sitting duck at center back.
For the Galaxy, the pressure is on. The team's season ticket base is down, its TV numbers are down, and LAFC has arrived on the scene to make the league's most decorated club a secondary story in its own city. Schmid, along with a number of his stars, namely the dos Santos brothers, need wins.
Though they had plenty of practice in the last month, the Timbers are still trying to figure out how to best survive without Diego Chara.
Savarese largely preferred the club's standard 4-2-3-1 formation in preseason, but, in keeping with his reputation as a tactically flexible coach, had no trouble shifting out of it during games as the Timbers struggled to find balance in central midfield.
The team looked better in a 4-4-2 diamond which we saw used against both Dallas and Kansas City in Tucson, and Savarese has to decide whether he's seen enough in that shape to warrant the team starting in it on Sunday night.
Attacking-wise, we'll likely see the Timbers go after the Galaxy's right flank. Romain Alessandrini doesn't want to defend, and the new right back Rolf Feltscher had an uncertain preseason. The more the Timbers can play on the front foot in this game, the better off they'll be. LA isn't built to withstand a ton of pressure.
90 - Gleeson
32 - Farfan
24 - Ridgewell (C)
33 - Mabiala
2 - Powell
22 - Paredes
20 - Guzman
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri
27 - Asprilla
9 - Adi
— A quad strain for Jeff Attinella has, for the moment, ended the goalkeeping competition. Jake Gleeson will have the chance to make his mark.
— It's a similar story at left back, where Vytas — who also missed time injured at the beginning of last season — is out with a hamstring strain. Marco Farfan, who was so impressive in his first MLS start in Carson last March, is in.
— Chara will travel to LA, but he didn't make a preseason start and will likely be on the bench. Lawrence Olum got the majority of Chara's minutes in preseason, but David Guzman paired better with Cristhian Paredes last week and the Paraguayan should start.
— The biggest personnel question for Savarese is what do with the final attacking spot. He's said that a two-front look with Samuel Armenteros and Adi playing together is an option, we only saw it briefly in preseason. Andy Polo played with the first-string in the last preseason game, but Dairon Asprilla had the better February overall. We'll see what happens.
— Per Savarese on Wednesday, Ridgewell is retaining the captaincy.
REFEREE: Jair Marrufo
I mentioned Farfan's start in LA a year ago next week, but that game — which the Timbers won 1-0 — said a lot about the direction each club was going last season. Portland hasn't lost at the StubHub Center since that unforgettable 5-2 rout on the penultimate day of the 2015 season.
I'm not convinced by either team defensively, but they'll both get out and score goals. It'll be a highly entertaining 2-2 draw to start 2018.