You hear it every year: the CONCACAF Champions League matters. With the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City set for tough games against the top teams of Liga MX, all eyes are on the LA Galaxy as favorites to represent the league in the late stages of the CCL. Fresh off a disappointing 2013 season, LA has something to prove as they did not qualify for the 2014/2015 CCL competition. And after their loss to Real Salt Lake last weekend, the Galaxy are eager to break every last rope tying them to their underwhelming 2013 season. If they can leave their mark on the CCL in the process, all the better.
We know that it’s going to be a test, but we’re excited.
—Hercules Gomez, Club Tijuana forward, formerly of LA Galaxy
LA carries the hopes of the league for a reason – Tijuana is mired in a Clausura that has seen the club struggle to find consistent victories. Xolos is currently on a 19-match winless streak on the road and recently lost for the first time at home in almost a year.
Mexican competition is strong in the CCL. Very, very strong. Mexican teams have an astounding 45-19-14 record against their MLS competition and have won the tournament every year since it adopted the current format. In fact, the only time a CONCACAF Champions League final has not included two Mexican teams was when Real Salt Lake lost to Monterrey in 2011.
The CONCACAF Champions League is a different beast since the days that Los Angeles won the 2000 Champions’ Cup. Today, simply advancing is a big deal for an MLS team. Tijuana and LA find themselves in an interesting matchup — no one is completely sure which team has the advantage. Historically, Tijuana should have the edge. But given Xolos’ recent troubles, all bets are off.
I usually don’t listen to anything that Herculez Gomez says. He is just full of hot air. They can feel whatever they want. I think that they’re a really good team. We won’t underestimate them. They have a lot of quality and a lot of players that don’t want to lose to us. It’s going to be an even match and our second game of the year, so I’m sure that it’ll be a great game. There’s a lot of respect there and I look forward to it.
READY FOR COMBAT
Losing 1-0 to RSL wasn’t fun — but it’s the first game of the season. It’s as close to meaningless as you can get, while still winning points. However, the loss can clue us in on what LA needs to work on to be successful against TJ.
First, the Galaxy need to be absolutely seamless in their backline. Club Tijuana are vicious on the attack, and they’ll be ready to exploit any momentarily lapse LA gives them. Tijuana hasn’t been able to win on the road and the Galaxy’s defense needs to make sure that record holds. Next, the Galaxy need to finish — scoring at home is an important confidence boost before playing an away match in Mexico. After Xolos’ thorough 2-0 thrashing of Chivas de Guadalajara — a win aided by a new offensive formation — it’d be dangerous to underestimate them.
Likely starter, first sub
Jaime Penedo, Brian Perk
RD – A.J. DeLaGarza, Oscar Sorto
CD – Omar Gonazalez, Leonardo, Kofi Opare
LD – James Riley, Todd Dunivant
RM – Gyasi Zardes, Stefan Ishizaki
CM – Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Baggio Husidic
LM – Landon Donovan, Marcelo Sarvas shifts over.
Robbie Keane, Samuel, Rob Friend
TIJUANA PLAYERS TO WATCH
Christian Pellerano (MF) – Tijuana’s current leader in scoring. Pellerano plays a defensive role in the midfield yet has still managed to find the back of the net 5 times this season.
Dario Benedetto (F) – This Italian-Argentine striker showed up big in Tijuana’s triumph over Chivas over the weekend by scoring one goal and setting up the second.
Javier Gandolfi (D) – Captain and defensive force for Tijuana.
Fernando Arce (MF) – Veteran player and a favorite of Tijuana fans. Arce hasn’t had a great season but is still important to the structure of Xolos.
Herculez Gomez (F) – Galaxy fans should be very familiar with this USMNT striker who spent 2002-2006 in Los Angeles. He has something to prove against his former league, tallying 8 goals in 10 games against MLS teams. Gomez kills CCL dreams — just ask Seattle.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Tijuana is incredibly hard to beat at home and the Galaxy needs to have a multiple-goal cushion before they cross the border. I promise you Bruce Arena is thinking the same exact thing. Win at home, survive away.
Looking good on the stats sheet won’t be enough — LA needs to be putting up marks on the scoreboard. That means Donovan needs to be more of a presence, Zardes needs to continue showing growth, Friend and Samuel need to integrate fully to LA’s offense, Robbie Keane needs to do a cartwheel or two, and, most of all, the defensive line needs to find perfection.
Massive thanks to Kim Tate for sharing her Liga MX knowledge with us. Follow her @KimTateSports on Twitter.