CCL: Galaxy look to ride same lineup in potential clincher
BAYAMÓN, Puerto Rico – The LA Galaxy on Wednesday night figure to field a team similar to that which dominated the Puerto Rico Islanders in their first CONCACAF Champions League meeting this season, and they believe it will be enough to ensure – in all but the mathematical sense – their spot in next year's quarterfinals.
It was a reserve lineup that pulled out a 4-0 triumph Aug. 29 at the Home Depot Center, and most of that group appears to be in coach Bruce Arena's plans for Wednesday’s rematch at Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
“If we win the game, we're basically through,” Michael Stephens, who played on the right flank three weeks ago and is expected to do so again, said following LA's training session Tuesday afternoon at the stadium. “If you look at goal differential, even if we go into Metapán [for the Group 5 finale Oct. 25] and lose. So basically, it's a win-and-your-through game. So that's nice.”
The Galaxy (2-0-0) have a three-point lead with an eight-goal differential over El Salvador's Isidro Metapán (1-1-0) halfway through the competition. Metapán play next week at Puerto Rico, and matching the Galaxy's result won't be nearly enough. LA won their home game with the Salvadorans, 5-2.
They're not expecting Wednesday's game to be as simple as the victory over the Islanders (0-2-0) in August. A loss eliminates Puerto Rico, who expect to have a full house providing support, and that's not all.
“It's a different field,” Stephens said. “It's a little but slower than our home stadium, so it will be a little bit more difficult to pass on it. ... It's just a different environment. It's very hot and very humid, so it's something we're not used to. We'll be able to adjust to it, but it will definitely be tougher than it was at our home stadium.”
Said Christian Wilhelmsson, who could see his first time on the left flank for LA: “There is humidity in the air, the field was spongy with high grass. It's going to be quite heavy to play the game, and the ball will go a little bit slower than normal, so we have to be prepared.”
Arena brought along several veterans, but most figure to start the game on the bench, especially with a Major League Soccer game against Toronto FC awaiting on Saturday back in California.
He could start the same defense – Brian Perk in the nets, Hector Jimenez, Tommy Meyer, Andrew Boyens and Bryan Gaul across the backline – and again team rookie Kenney Walker and Rafael Garcia in central midfield.
“We've brought a team here that we think can win,” he said. “It's that simple, and it's the same thing as we did some weeks ago. We're positioning a team on the field that we think can be successful.”