LA Galaxy vs. Club Tijuana | CONCACAF Champions League Match Preview

LA Galaxy vs. Club Tijuana
StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, first leg
March 11, 2014; 10 pm ET/7 pm PT (FOX Soccer Plus, Galavision)

The busy start to LA Galaxy’s 2014 season continues Wednesday with Liga MX’s Club Tijuana looming in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals border war at StubHub Center.

The Galaxy came into the year with some new, complementary pieces to attacking mainstays Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane with the acquisitions of forwards Rob Friend and Samuel and midfielder Stefan Ishizaki. The depth the newcomers provide will obviously be crucial – the Galaxy play four games in two weeks to kick of the year – but they’ll clearly have to rely on their usual playmakers against a Xolos side quickly rounding into form.

LA will also have to be a bit sharper than they were in their MLS opener Saturday against Real Salt Lake, when they took 27 shots but failed to score in a 1-0 loss.

The Xolos finished a disappointing 10th place in the regular season of the 2013 Apertura but are eighth in the Clausura table this year after Friday’s 2-0 win over Guadalajara. Tijuana feature a handful of USMNT mainstays, with Herculez Gomez and and Joe Corona both figuring to play a role in the series. Also, American youngster Greg Garza has been pushing US international Edgar Castillo at left back. LA, however, will mostly have to worry about Argentine midfielder Cristian Pellerano, who has five goals and an assist in nine games this season.

The two clubs, separated by just more than two hours' drive, share large swaths of the same fan bases, and the atmosphere is expected to be a raucous one.

For a more detailed look at what to expect from the Galaxy this season, be sure to check out the Armchair Analyst’s 2014 season preview.

How they qualified:

  • LA Galaxy: Group 8 winner, seed No. 6 (3-0-1; 9 pts, 6 GF/4 GA)
  • Tijuana: Group 7 winner, seed No. 3 (3-1-0); 10 pts, 10 GF/2 GA)

The Opponent – What you need to know about Tijuana

Coach: César Farías (Venezuela)

Current Position: 8th in Liga MX (4-2-4; 14 pts, 10 GF/13 GA)

Best CCL/Champions’ Cup finish: First participation 

Star Player: Cristian Pellerano

As mentioned above, the veteran Argentine has been in impeccable form to start the Liga MX season, contributing with a goal or an assist to six of the 10 goals Xolos have scored.

The thing is, he's normally a defensive midfielder.

In addition to his newfound goalscoring prowess, Pellerano is a combative midfielder with good fitness levels who can perfectly complement the more creative Fernando Arce in the center of the park. If he can slow down a Galaxy attack that's high on chances if low on goals, then it'll go a long way towards deciding the series.

You may recognize: Herculez Gomez

OK, this one's a gimme, given Herc's record with the national team. But it's also worth noting for new CCL viewers that he has been nothing short of deadly against MLS teams in this tournament with nine goals against sides from north of the border.

He's also a guy who like to play with a chip on his shoulder, making it an even more terrifying prospect for LA. For one, they gave him his pro start, though he didn't stick around long, and now his fortunes would appear to be down after recently battling back from an injury that has hampered the beginning of his time with Tijuana. But as history reminds us, never rule out Herc.

Outside of Gomez, Tijuana's influence in Southern California runs deep. Corona, Garza and Castillo could push for playing time in this one, while Alejandro Guido also recently made his debut for Tijuana. Former LA Galaxy academy player Paul Arriola and ex-New York Red Bulls Homegrown Amando Moreno are also on the roster.


Possible XIs:

LA Galaxy (4-4-2): Penedo; DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Leonardo, Dunivant; Juninho, Ishizaki, Sarvas, Donovan, Keane, Samuel

Tijuana (4-4-2): Saucedo; Nuñez, Gandolfi, H. Pellerano, Castillo; Corona, C. Pellerano, Arce, Martínez; Gomez, Benedetto

Why LA will win: The Galaxy showed signs of dominance against Real Salt Lake in their MLS opener Saturday, despite their loss. That certainly bodes well, as they are integrating a number of new pieces into the mix. The Galaxy took 27 shots, and if it wasn’t for a stand-on-his-head performance by Rimando, who had nine saves, LA are probably walking away multi-goal victors.

To beat Tijuana, a multi-goal performance is likely what they’ll need. Ishizaki will have to once again be dangerous, which should create a host of opportunities for Keane and Donovan. If the Galaxy can suddenly find the midseason form, which eluded them in the finishing department on Saturday, they might put up more than a fight against Tijuana.

It's also worth noting that Xolos have been patently terrible on the road, at least in the Liga MX. They have not posted a victory away from the Estadio Caliente in league play since Jan. 20, 2013, going 0-15-4, though they did go 1-1-0 on the road in the CCL group stage. With that in mind, LA must play a complete first leg and avoid the kind of collapse that doomed them last year against Monterrey, lest they travel to the Estadio Caliente chasing a series against a team that's still remained solid at home (12-4-6 since last road win).

Why Tijuana will win: Xolos are still in rocky form, even after topping Chivas over the weekend, but are clearly still a dangerous team. LA's multifaceted attack can pose problems for any team once they find their finishing boots, and Tijuana will need a disciplined defensive performance in the first leg.

Luckily for them, coach César Farías is well-schooled in that department, having successfully relied on such performances in his tenure with his native Venezuela, nowhere more so than in their run to the 2011 Copa América semifinals.

On the otherside of the ball, it's not just Pellerano and Gomez that will present threats. Winger/forward Fidel Martínez can change a game with his speed and improvisational skills, and though his form can vary wildy, he could be a nightmare for LA defenders trying to stay in position and avoid scrambling. If he and the Tijuana attack can click, it will be very hard for the Galaxy to win this series if they can't find a way to outgun Xolos.