CCL: Tough trips to Central America nothing new for experienced LA Galaxy
HEREDIA, Costa Rica – The LA Galaxy know well the situation they're stepping into Thursday night, when they take on Herediano in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
They've been on this path for a while now – this is their third successive appearance in the region's top club competition – with treks down to Morelia (Mexico), Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Motagua (Honduras) and Isidro Metapán (El Salvador) in the past year-and-a-half.
It's a different world south of the border, and the challenges that await Major League Soccer clubs, from poor field conditions to hostile environments to questionable officiating, is part of the game.
“You know what to expect,” said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, who played in 2011 losses at Morelia and Alajuelense and in last year's first leg at Toronto FC in a failed bid for the semifinals. “It's quite hostile and the stadiums are fairly small. You can hear everything the fans are saying – luckily, I don't understand Spanish, so it's quite easy for me.
“It's good playing these atmosphere games. It's good when the fans are angry: You can wind them up a little. ... It's something that you should relish and enjoy, you know.”
Head coach Bruce Arena says he doesn't “know if 'relishing it' is the right word.”
“It's part of the job, and this is something we think is important for our club,” he said. “We're developing as a club, and we think we should be able to compete in international competition, so that's what this is, and it's a challenge for our entire organization.
“How we get here, how we play – all that stuff's important. It's an organizational challenge, not only coaches and players, and then return next week [for the March 13 second leg at the Home Depot Center] and create an atmosphere that's favorable for our team to be successful. It's all part of it.”
The Galaxy are 4-4-2 on the road all time in Champions' Cup and Champions League matches, with two victories at Motagua (to advance to the 2003 semifinals and to last year's quarterfinals), one at the Puerto Rico Islanders (in 2010, after dropping a 4-1 home decision in a preliminary-round series) and last October at Isidro Metapán (giving LA the No. 4 seed in this year's knockout phase).
“[The road challenges] just means you have to prepare all that much better,” forward Mike Magee said. “Obviously, it's not going to be the same as playing in a league game. It's going to be pretty hostile, and we're not going to be taken as well [by spectators], and their team's going to be pretty fired up.
“It helps getting off at the airport, and all the guys are chanting at us and stuff,” as happened when the Galaxy arrived in Costa Rica on Tuesday night. “It helps get your mind right. But for the most part, everyone who's playing has already played in these games.”
Said Arena: “It comes down to if you can place all the distractions behind you and to the side and be able to focus and play for 90 minutes, we have a chance to win the game. That's always the challenge. Experience allows you to do that. We have enough players that have participated in these kinds of competitions. I think we can be successful.”