CONCACAF Champions League Tracker: LA Galaxy brace for journey into Club Tijuana's den

The moment of truth has arrived for the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City: The second and decisive legs of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal clashes with Mexican heavyweights Club Tijuana, Toluca and Cruz Azul, respectively. Catch up on all the news and updates from these three matchups below.


XOLOS PREPARE LA AMBUSH: This week's matches kick off on Tuesday night with Club Tijuana vs. LA Galaxy, the series that probably burns the hottest due to the clubs' close proximity and shared pursuit of Southern California youth talent (10 pm ET, Fox Sports 2/Galavision).

And no one has done more to add spice to this contest than Herculez Gomez, the former Galaxy striker who now leads Tijuana's large US contingent. Herc has served up some choice quotes this month and he did so again on Monday, reports MLSsoccer.com's Scott French:

“We can be very unpredictable, and that's a very dangerous fighter to face,” said Gomez, who has made MLS teams his personal punching bag over a long history of CCL success. “The good thing about a fight, it just takes one punch. And we're one of those teams, we have some punch.”

In case you missed it, Gomez also took to Twitter a few days ago to aim a dig at Galaxy fans after LA's first-leg home win at StubHub Center:

His fellow Yank Joe Corona also chimed in with a reminder about Tijuana's dominant home form at Estadio Caliente over the past two years, while Greg Garza chatted with the ExtraTime Radio crew about why and how his Xolos will triumph in this border battle. 

For their part, LA are prepared to weather a flurry of early pressure from their hosts, then venture forward in search of a crucial road goal. Notably, coach Bruce Arena claims the artificial turf at Estadio Caliente is not all that bad compared to its US counterparts. 


SPORTING HEAD SOUTH: Sporting Kansas City are en route to Mexico City for Wednesday's decisive showdown with Cruz Azul (10 pm ET, FOX Sports 2/Galavision), who defeated Tijuana 2-1 in their reserve-heavy Liga MX meeting over the weekend.

On Monday SportingKC.com broke down the numbers behind this matchup, including a glance at Cruz Azul's dominant home record during the CCL group stage. Ominously for SKC, Goal.com notes, La Máquina's star striker Marco Fabián scored both goals, putting him in good form heading into the second leg at Estadio Azul.

Then again, something similar might also be said for KC defender Aurélien Collin, who scored for his team in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with FC Dallas en route to a place in the MLS Team of the Week

SKC rested a few important starters, including linchpin midfielder Graham Zusi, over the weekend and the team looks fresh and sharp, if this video clip from training is any indication:


SHORTHANDED QUAKES: The San Jose Earthquakes head to Toluca with the two teams' series squarely in the balance after a 1-1 draw in San Jose last Tuesday, but the Quakes look like they will need to conjure up a lot more of that Goonie magic on Wednesday (10 pm ET, Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes) to make an unprecedented semifinal appearance.
 
Why's that?
 
Well, to put it kindly, the Quakes will be missing a few defenders. To start, Víctor Bérnardez, the hero of the team's 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake over the weekend, is suspended for caution accumulation after picking up a yellow card in the first leg against Toluca. After suspension, though, it gets ugly. Check out these updates from MLSsoccer.com's Quakes beat writer Geoff Lepper after the RSL game:
If you're keeping track at home, that's a potential whole backline (Stewart-Goodson-Hernandez-Barklage) that risks missing out, and probably Mark Watson's first choice minus Bernardez. One Quakes player known for his aerial prowess did offer his services in defense to the head coach, though:
For what it's worth, Goodson seemed in good spirits after training in Mexico, even sitting down with SJEarthquakes.com for a Q&A that included discussion of his experiences in the World Cup, Mexico and as a backup singer for The Old Firm Casuals' Quakes-inspired "Never Say Die" track.
 
Regardless of the injuries, San Jose are certainly taking the challenge of Toluca seriously. However, one of the biggest challenges may not be an opposing player, but the altitude in the central Mexican city: 2,686 meters or approximately 8,812 feet – nearly 1,000 feet higher than Mexico City.
 
To that end, the Quakes have been doing their homework on the altitude challenge since they were first paired with Toluca at the end of last season.
 
"The only way we can deal with this is actually play at that elevation," San Jose's head athletic trainer, Brian Lee, told SJEarthquales.com "We're lucky that we have the opportunity to go a few days ahead of time."
 
The Quakes' solution saw them travel to Mexico on Sunday and set up shop just outside Cuernavaca, which is about half the elevation of Toluca. After staying there for two days to help ease the transition to high elevation, they'll head to Toluca on Tuesday evening and get one training session under their belt at full altitude before the game. We'll have to wait until Wednesday night to see if the strategy pays off, but at least we know the Quakes have set up in some pretty sweet digs: