Photos by Robert Mora & Jon Lorentz/LA Galaxy.

LA Galaxy Look to Secure Advancement to Champions League Knockout Rounds Against Central FC

LA Galaxy must shake off Real Salt Lake disappointment for key CCL match.

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, the LA Galaxy will take on Central FC away at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad, for its first group stage away match of the 2015-16 Concacaf Champions League.

After getting hammered by Real Salt Lake over the weekend, the Galaxy desperately need to rebound and bust the slump that’s overtaken the team in the past few weeks. Though Central FC is an inferior team to the Galaxy on paper, it would be foolish to underestimate their chances of success at home, particularly in light of how poor the Galaxy’s away record has been this year. Indeed, perhaps the biggest shocker of this year’s group stages occurred on September 16, 2015, when the other Trinidad and Tobago team in the Champions League, West Connection, beat Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa in Port of Spain after having conceded eight goals in their first two group matches. Given the unlikelihood of Saprissa losing to West Connection, the Galaxy could encounter the same fate if it approaches the game Wednesday with the complacence that characterized its performance on Saturday against RSL. After all, Saprissa is no minnow – it has won 31 Costa Rican championships and three Concacaf Champions League titles (two more than the LA Galaxy).

Even within the Galaxy’s group (Group D), there has already been a minor upset. On September 17, 2015, Central FC beat Guatemalan club Comunicaciones in Trinidad. Though Comunicaciones controlled the first half of its match against Central, the plucky Trinidadians took control in the second half, despite the fact that they were reduced to ten men in the 64th minute when winger Darren Mitchell received a straight red card following an ugly foul on Comunicaciones forward Ronaldo Blackburne.

Central FC’s win over Comunicaciones means that if the Galaxy win on Wednesday, the MLS side will lock up its position for the knockout rounds. Further, if the Galaxy can maintain its current goal differential, it will take the top seed from D.C. United. The Galaxy’s current two-goal advantage over Club America in the group stages also means the Galaxy stand a decent chance of holding on to the top seed. Along with the Galaxy, Club America has thus far put in the most convincing performances in the Champions League, having strolled through Group E with a +7 goal differential.

club america

Club America currently holds the Concacaf Champion’s League Title

Getting the win against Central FC this week is particularly important since, if the Galaxy lose this week’s game in Trinidad, it will have to bring its A-team to compete in final group stage match at the Estadio Cementos Progreso in Guatemala City on October 21, 2015, before a crowd of rabid Comunicaciones supporters. The October 21 match is calendared between the Galaxy’s last two games of the MLS season. One imagines that if the Galaxy is going to make a run at the Supporter’s Shield, those last two games will be pivotal ones.

It may seem a dubious proposition at this point that the LA Galaxy are actually going to make a run at the Supporter’s Shield: after all, star midfielder Steven Gerrard is moonlighting midweek as a pundit from Europe, the team will be losing at least three players to the October 10 U.S. v. Mexico game, and the team is, of late, playing some pretty lackluster soccer. However, if the Galaxy decides it’s going to take a whack at actually trying to win this year, then losing this Wednesday would put itself in a must-win situation on October 21 and essentially force the Galaxy to choose between going for the Supporter’s Shield or staying in the Champions League.

In order to win on Wednesday, what should the Galaxy do? Central FC’s only goalscorer during the Concacaf Champions League has been Atuallah Guerra, the 6’ 3” midfielder who is a regular for the Trinidad and Tobago national team. It was his curling strike for Las Cremas last Thursday that secured the win for Central against Comunicaciones.


Central FC midfielder Atuallah Guerra

The Galaxy should perhaps take a cue from the only team to have qualified for the knockout rounds thus far, D.C. United: in prototypically pragmatic fashion, D.C. United beat Panamanian side Árabe Unido 2-0 on September 15, 2015, and in so doing secured passage for themselves to the knockout rounds. D.C. United has one of the best MLS records in Concacaf Champions League history, and its willingness to play a physical and at times nasty form of soccer probably has something to do with its success.

With that in mind, the Galaxy would do well to compile a lineup capable of playing a physical and pragmatic brand of soccer. Since the Galaxy have a game next Sunday against FC Dallas, Bruce Arena will likely leave his stars at home and let MLS youngsters and veterans do the dirty work necessary to secure the team’s advancement out of the group stages.

No player in MLS is more Concacaffy than Alan Gordon: his brute strength and size combined with an uncanny knack for scoring later winners off of well-timed set pieces makes him a prime candidate to lead the charge against Central FC and it would not surprise me if he wears the captain’s armband on Wednesday.

Other players I expect to see make the grueling trek to Trinidad include Brian Rowe, Dave Romney, Tommy Meyer, Dan Gargan, Oscar Sorto, Mika Väyrynen, Kenney Walker, Ignacio Maganto, Rafael Garcia, Edson Buddle, and possibly Gyasi Zardes, Juninho and/or Sebastian Lletget.

With two fixtures in the next seven days, managing player minutes is the name of the game.  FC Dallas, like the Galaxy, is licking its wounds this week after a bad loss this past weekend.   Arena will have to thread the needle carefully to ensure the Galaxy win on Wednesday and still have enough in the tank to take on Dallas next Sunday.