L.A. begins title defense against Chicago

The Los Angeles Galaxy will begin their title defense from the comfort of their home pitch as the 2012 MLS Cup champions kick off the new season with a clash against the Chicago Fire at The Home Depot Center on Sunday.

The Galaxy secured the 2012 MLS Cup title with a 3-1 defeat of the Houston Dynamo at home, sending David Beckham off in a manner worthy of a Hollywood script. The English superstar capped a five-and-a-half-year spell in American soccer by leading Los Angeles to a second straight MLS Cup title, helping the Galaxy become just the third club to win back-to-back titles.

Los Angeles will be attempting to make MLS history this season by becoming the first team to claim three successive championships, but its quest for that distinction will be undeniably tougher given the marquee names that will not be listed in the Galaxy squad.

Not only will Bruce Arena's side be without Beckham, but the team will have to sustain a long stretch without Landon Donovan, who will miss the first couple months of the season with a personal leave of absence.

Edson Buddle also has departed the club in the offseason, making the switch to the Colorado Rapids. That move leaves the Galaxy quite thin in their attacking options and very reliant upon Robbie Keane, who will serve as captain up until Donovan's return.

Keane is more than capable of leading the line following a superb season in 2012, but it will be interesting to see how the Ireland international gets on without Beckham's supreme service and Donovan's ability to link up.

Chicago has gone through its fair share of changes in the offseason as well.

The Fire bolstered their midfield with the additions of Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, Brendan King and Dilly Duka to compensate for Pavel Pardo's retirement and Alvaro Fernandez's loan spell away from Chicago.

Frank Klopas looks to set to rely heavily upon Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe to produce the goods up front. Both strikers joined the Fire over the course of last season, combining to score 12 goals and add seven assists. They should benefit from a full offseason to strengthen their partnership.

MacDonald and Rolfe will need to be on point throughout the season if they hope to lead the Fire to a second successive playoff appearance. Chicago's forward line looks a bit depleted after dealing Federico Puppo, Guillermo Franco and Dominic Oduro in the offseason, placing additional pressure on the midfield to pick up any potential slack in the goals department.