MLS Preview: Pressure on Galaxy stars to deliver
LA Galaxy's stars must start justifying their hefty price tags, while MLS champions Portland Timbers are aiming to go back-to-back.
The 2016 MLS campaign resumes with LA Galaxy's big-money recruits a year older and wiser, and boosted by the arrival of three more European acquisitions in the Western Conference.
Captain Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani dos Santos have been joined by Ashley Cole and Nigel de Jong, as well as Jelle Van Damme in Los Angeles, while key players Omar Gonzalez and Juninho have departed, after the Galaxy were eliminated in the knockout round of last season's MLS Cup.
Galaxy's preparations have not gone according to plan as they gear up for Sunday's showdown with Eastern Conference hopefuls DC United, crushed 4-0 by Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals second leg during the week.
"I think we're OK," said Keane. "Obviously you take away the Santos game and I certainly think that as a group everyone's ready now.
"Our season really starts now on Sunday, so we're ready as we can be.
"The pre-season has gone well and I think everybody is looking forward to the MLS season to start."
Former Liverpool skipper Gerrard, who has been surprised by the difficulty of the league, added: "It will take time. Especially for the European guys coming into a new environment, new players, new staff, new way of playing.
"That's why things in pre-season are never smooth. It's always up and down. We don't want to use that as an excuse; we want to get off to a flying start."
Standing in the way of the Galaxy are the likes of defending champions the Portland Timbers.
The Timbers claimed their maiden MLS Cup last season against Columbus Crew, and the two teams will renew their rivalry on Sunday in a rematch of the final, which the former won 2-1 in December.
Portland have been boosted by the contract extensions of Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe, while the Crew will be hoping star striker Kei Kamara - joint-top goalscorer last season - can repeat his 2015 season.
New York City and Orlando City are set for their second seasons in MLS and hoping for better fortunes this time around, having missed the play-offs last term.
Led by new coach Patrick Vieira, star-studded New York City - boasting David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard - open the season at Chicago Fire.
However, New York City are expected to start the campaign in the same way they did in 2015, without Lampard, who is struggling for fitness.
Orlando have former AC Milan and Juventus midfielder Antonio Nocerino in their squad but he will not play against Real Salt Lake, though they have Kaka.
Last season's Supporters' Shield winners New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC - led by reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco - will clash in the curtain-raiser.
Montreal Impact will be without Didier Drogba - who scored 11 goals last season - for their trip to Vancouver Whitecaps as they nurse the former Ivory Coast captain's knee.
Seattle Sounders will rely heavily on Clint Dempsey after losing Obafemi Martins to the Chinese Super League last month, and their first test is at home to Sporting Kansas City.
FC Dallas entertain Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids are away to San Jose Earthquakes, while Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution will go head-to-head.
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