CCL Match Preview: Herediano vs. LA Galaxy
Throughout the week, MLSsoccer.com will bringing you the lowdown three CONCACAF Champions League series involving MLS teams. Rouding out the first leg is Herediano vs. LA Galaxy. Check here for breakdowns of the Houston-Santos Laguna and Tigres UANL-Seattle series and come back Thursday morning for preview of the LA Galaxy's quarterfinal against Herediano. For a refresher on the CCL, be sure to check out our primer on the quarterfinals.
TV Info: First Leg: Herediano vs. LA Galaxy (March 7, 8 pm ET, Fox Soccer); Second Leg: LA Galaxy vs. Herediano (March 13, 10 pm ET, Fox Soccer)
LA Galaxy outlook: The Galaxy got off to a rip-roaring start to the season, demolishing Chicago 4-0 behind a hat trick from Mike Magee. To fully rid themselves of the demons of the troubled opening to their 2012 campaign, though, they will need to succeed where they stumbled a year prior, in the CCL quarterfinals.
Despite missing Landon Donovan for the time being and not having filled the DP spot vacated by the departing David Beckham, the Galaxy showed in the opener that the squad is both deep and capable without two of the three players so instrumental to success last year. The midfield has become more steeled with the presence of both Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas, while Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and newcomer Carlo Cudicini in goal still lend the Galaxy plenty of that star aura; they should be feeling good about their chances over two legs.
Herediano outlook: After an uneven start to the season, the Costa Rican side has won its past two games and is unbeaten in four, though is still yet to convince with the Campeonato de Verano nearing its halfway point. Still, this is an athletic, skillful team that showed it could match a top MLS side blow for blow, defeating Real Salt Lake 1-0 in Costa Rica before earning a 0-0 draw in Utah. Their style may be less suited to the Galaxy than to RSL, but the team is well-balanced and should not be taken lightly.
LA Galaxy player to watch: Marcelo Sarvas has not received the kindest of receptions upon his return to Costa Rica, where he played for a year and a half with Alajuelense, Herediano's fierce rivals. He does, however, bring plenty of experience playing against Herediano to the table, not to mention what looks to be a blossoming partnership with Juninho, both of which could be vital in a close series.
Herediano player to watch: After missing the start of the 2013 season, veteran striker Mínor Díaz has come on strong, scoring in each of Herediano's last three games and linking up well with fellow in-form striker Yendrick Ruiz (six goals in 10 games). The Galaxy shipped two goals against a similar Isidro Metapán strike pairing in their last group stage matchup, and though they will likely be fielding a stronger lineup this time around, they cannot rest on Herediano's ability and hot hands up top.
Matchup to watch: LA's right flank (Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza) vs. Herediano's left side. Bruce Arena opted to push Franklin further up the field than his more frequented right back spot, a move that worked to great effect against Chicago. It is a ploy that fits the Galaxy's style of play perfectly and will give talented, young Herediano left back Waylon Francis plenty to deal with. If the pace on LA Galaxy's right side can keep Francis and Co. in check, it will take away one of Herediano's key offensive outlets and open up space for the Galaxy to play their preferred game.
Prediction: LA will come out on top in the series, but it could be narrower than expected. The two sides should exchange some goals in the first leg to keep it close, but the Galaxy will get the job done at home.