Steven Gerrard merges with the Galaxy on Saturday night

Only 10 days after leaving Liverpool, Steven Gerrard has already conquered the most challenging aspect of life in Southern California.

He has mastered his commute on the 405.

"There are little minor changes I need to get used to, like turning right when the traffic lights are on red," he said. "But we're getting there."

On Saturday he'll find out how the soccer part of his transition to life in America is coming when he makes his long-awaited debut with the Galaxy against Mexico's Club America at the StubHub Center (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

The former Liverpool and English national team captain is expected to play only the first half of the International Champions Cup game, but it will be a historic 45 minutes nonetheless because it will mark Gerrard's first club appearance in anything other than a Liverpool jersey.

"I've got ... excitement inside me. A few nerves as well, but that's normal," he said Friday, after his first full week of training with the Galaxy. "There's been a lot of attention and a lot of talking off the pitch. Now I get to do my stuff."

For the last 17 years, that stuff has been pretty good, with Gerrard scoring more goals (186) and playing more games (710) than any other Liverpool player. For 12 of those seasons he wore the captain's armband, making him the longest-serving captain in club history.

But he's 35 now. So when Liverpool told Gerrard last season that the starting position he'd held since 1999 was suddenly up for grabs, he got up and left.

"I needed a fresh challenge," he said. "I didn't want to become a squad player or a sub."

He won't be that with the Galaxy, who will pay Gerrard $9 million over the next 18 months, money the team had committed to Landon Donovan, then got back when Donovan retired with two years left on his contract.

Gerrard, who hasn't played since the English Premier League season ended in May, was ineligible to join the Galaxy until Major League Soccer's summer transfer window opened Wednesday. So he'll probably need a few games to regain his fitness. Once he does, Coach Bruce Arena plans to use him in the same attacking midfielder spot he filled so well at Liverpool.

"He's going to play the way he plays," Arena said. "We're not going to try to reinvent the wheel."

A new playing style, then, is one less thing Gerrard will have to adapt to. A new lifestyle, however, is something he has already embraced.

In Liverpool, he was more recognizable than the queen — and a lot more popular. That made it difficult to leave the house at times.

"Listen, I enjoyed my time over in the UK. I wouldn't change it for the world," Gerrard said. "But how big the Premier League is at the moment, every single person seems to be into football. And very passionate about it.

"So they want to talk to you every minute of the day."

Contrast that with his first trip out with his three daughters in Southern California.

"I went to the fairgrounds at Santa Monica Pier. And no one recognized me or asked me for a picture," he marveled. "It's the first time I've been able to take my daughters to a fairground. And my eldest is 11.

"So at the moment I'm a pretty cool dad."

That opportunity to have both soccer and family has already made the move from Liverpool worth it.

"I want to come here and keep things pretty similar as far as the football's concerned. I want to remain professional, keep fighting, be committed and try to win as many games as I can," he said. "But I also want to enjoy my life off the pitch. I want to be able to spend time with my daughters and my family.

"Over here it's different. You can go about your daily business anonymously."

Disneyland, though, will have to wait. Because for all the sun and fun and anonymity Southern California has to offer, Gerrard has repeatedly emphasized this is a business trip, not a vacation. And the business meeting is Saturday night.

"When you come to a new team, the most important thing is what you do on the field," said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, Gerrard's teammate for six months in 2008-09. "Everything else takes care of itself."

The transition from the EPL to MLS was unusually smooth for Keane, who scored in his first game and won three MLS titles in his first four seasons. Now the league's reigning most valuable player, Keane credits Arena with helping soften his landing here, something he says the coach will do for Gerrard as well.

For Arena, that will mean teaching Gerrard that while the game is the same as in England, many of the things around it are different — starting with the coach.

"Typically where they've come from, sometimes they're not used to having a relationship with the manager," Arena said. "I try to let them know early that we have a relationship. We may not be drinking buddies and all, but they can feel free to come to me and talk.

"That was very difficult with David Beckham. He wasn't used to that. And once he got used to that we had a good working relationship."

Beckham also had to get used to the same 405 commute between Beverly Hills and Carson that Gerrard is now making. So when Gerrard turned to Beckham and Keane for advice before signing with the Galaxy, traffic was one of the subjects they covered.

Treat it like a soccer game, they told him.

"I was fearing the worst," Gerrard said of the traffic, not the game. "I'm adapting to it and I'm driving myself about. The important thing is that ... you face it rather than avoid it.

"You've got to get out there."

On Saturday night he will.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
57°