CCL: Galaxy eager to avoid mistakes of last year's exit
CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy have come along way following their unexpected demise at the hands of Toronto FC in the previous edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.
The result in early March signaled the start of a prolonged slump to start the 2012 MLS season, but their fine run of form in the summer months has allowed them to put their struggles squarely behind them. To cap it all off, they now have another shot at North America's top club title.
LA open their Group 5 slate Thursday night at Home Depot Center against Isidro Metapán (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), currently in second place on goal difference in El Salvador's Liga Mayor, and are home again on Aug. 29 against the Puerto Rico Islanders, the North American Soccer League's No. 2 team.
With only one of the three clubs advancing to next year's quarterfinals, kicking off the group with two wins is vital, especially with group play wrapping up on the road, Sept. 19 in Bayamón and Oct. 25 at Metapán, the latter having already earned three points.
“Statistically, it requires you win at home,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “But that’s probably the same as it was last year – it was very critical to win at home.”
Defender Todd Dunivant notes that, “It puts the onus on winning those games even more. You don't have much room to make up ground, so you have to do a good job at home.”
Worryingly though, the Galaxy have faltered at home their last two CCL appearances. They fell to the Islanders two years ago after a 4-1 first-leg loss at the HDC in the preliminary round. After winning their group last year, LA were ousted by Toronto, 2-1, again on home turf.
The Toronto loss, which started LA on the path to the Western Conference cellar, remains a sore point – “We want to get back to that stage,” Dunivant acknowledged – and the Galaxy's play the past two months has them believing that's what they'll do. They've won eight of their past 13 competitive matches, are 5-1-2 in their last eight and finally have their first-choice backline together for the first time since their MLS Cup 2011 win.
“We’ve come into good form over the last half-dozen games, so I think that we’re in pretty good shape,” Arena said. “I think that the Champions League has proved to be difficult for all teams. It’s not an easy competition – you get games jammed in between your league schedules, so it’s not easy. It’s competitive and very challenging.”
There are expectations. The Galaxy's triumph in the tightest first-round CCL group last year was as impressive as its Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup championships, and they believed they were capable of winning the CONCACAF club title for the first time since 2001.
The approach is different than at Alajuelense, said midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who last year took on the Galaxy when he was still with with the Costa Rican powerhouse.
“The Galaxy, you have the obligation to go through [to the knockout stage],” he said. “Alajuela is different. Normally, it's American teams, Mexican teams that go through. [With the Galaxy] you know that you play like a big team. You have to go through.”