Carson, CA – The LA Galaxy officially starts their competition season tonight at StubHub Center with their fourth appearance in the SCCL quarterfinals after finishing at the top of Group D in October 2015 with a 2-0-2 record, pulling in wins over Central FC and Comunicaciones FC at home and ties on the road. Their Liga MX opponent, Santos Laguna, might be beatable tonight even though they are seven games into their regular season, whereas LA are hardly one month into their preseason. Santos are tied for seventh in Liga MX with Cruz Azul and Club Tijuana after a three-game winless streak that includes last Sunday’s 1-1 tie with Pumas UNAM in Mexico City.
Leg 1 of the quarterfinals of the 2015-16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League action kicked off last night with MLS sides, DC United and Seattle Sounders taking on Querétaro and Club América with a mixed result (DC lost 0-2 and Seattle battled for a 2-2 draw) for MLS teams who are at a distinct disadvantage given scheduling means teams will have barely had time to gel and players have had limited time to reach peak fitness. Only two MLS clubs have ever reached the final – Real Salt Lake in 2010, who then lost to Monterrey on aggregate, and Montreal in 2015 – they lost to Club América.
“Do they have an advantage on us? Of course they do. I’ve said since day one of preseason the schedule the way it is … for an MLS team to go and win CONCACAF certainly is going to be difficult, but if anyone has a chance it’s certainly us.” – Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy Striker
LA’s three biggest international signings this year, English defender Ashley Cole, Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme and Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong arrived this month and have had little time to get accustomed to their new conditions before being thrown into pre-season friendlies. But in spite of early losses to Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders in pre-season friendlies, overall they are contributing well on the pitch as leaders and playmakers, leaving fans with hopeful expectations for latter success.
“It’s been a good preseason. Obviously, all of our players didn’t arrive at the same time, but I think the late additions, with Van Damme and Cole and de Jong, have done well. No question, I think two months into the MLS season, our team should be in a good place. It’s a little early right now.” – Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach & General Manager
Santos is known for pressing directly in their attack with a higher line. This will prove a test to LA’s new back line and really be an opportunity to assess Dan Kennedy’s prowess. There are a number of Santos players to watch out for tonight, including Argentinian 2015 Copa America goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin who is hailed as one of the best in Liga MX for his quick reflexes and pinpoint distribution. Djaniny is lethal in his attack and young Chilean international attacker Rabello has already scored a brace for Santos this season. Nestor Calderon remains one of their most flexible and consistent players. Many eyes are also on Santos’ newcomer Jorge Villafana with memories still fresh of his days with the 2015 MLS Cup winners.
In spite of the amount of pressure LA’s new back line will have tonight, it also will be interesting to see whether the playmakers like Giovani dos Santos and Steven Gerrard can step up to the challenge linking up well with Keane and Zardes to create scoring opportunities that are reflected on the scoreboard. There’s been a lack of polish and sophistication from Dos Santos lately that the LA Galaxy would like to see remedied quickly, and this is a key game to do it if he truly wants his slot in El Tri back. Gyasi Zardes’ errors in finishing are becoming less forgivable considering his time with the USMNT means a lot more should be expected from him at present. Arena’s abilities to keep his team’s physical fitness issues at bay with tactical substitutions will also be crucial tonight. This is the night to play smarter, not harder.
Both LA Galaxy and Santos Laguna are former league champions. LA Galaxy qualified for the SCCL by as 2014 MLS Cup champions, and Santos Laguna is the 2015 Clausura winner. The quarterfinal winner will be determined by aggregate goals after the playoff’s second leg next week on Tuesday, March 1st at Estadio Corona in Torreon, Mexico.
This game can be seen on Fox Sports 1 and will kickoff at 7PM LIVE from StubHub Center. Tickets are still available.