CARSON, Calif. — The way Bruce Arena sees it, three victories could be enough to see the LA Galaxy through to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Dealing with challenging games in difficult environments in Mexico and Central America may not make for ideal conditions from which to pick up wins, though. Thus, the significance of the Galaxy’s Champions League games at the Home Depot Center — the first of which is on Tuesday against Honduran side Motagua (10 pm ET) — increases significantly.
“For us, the game on Tuesday is the biggest game of the year,” Arena said. “We have to win that game.”
Fortune smiled a bit on the Galaxy as they will host their first two group-stage games, first against Motagua and then Costa Rican side Alajuelense on Aug. 25. Having the games at home will only be advantageous if LA can pull out victories.
“You have to protect the home field in this competition,” Arena said. “You can predict that you need anywhere from nine to 12 points to qualify and get through out of a possible 18. To get nine points, you have to win games at home. Every time there is a tie in the group it probably helps everybody. The ties don’t help when you are in a lower position. If you can get out of the gate with three points, it helps you. That’s got to be our objective.”
The Galaxy also received a bit of a scheduling break from Sporting Kansas City when their match at Livestrong Sporting Park was moved from Saturday to Sept. 5, freeing up the club to rest and recover after their 3-1 win over FC Dallas on Aug. 6 and properly prepare for Motagua and the Champions League.
Arena did not say what kind of team he would sent out against the Hondurans. As the Galaxy have a league match against San Jose five days later, that could have an effect on the lineup.
What’s clear, though, is no matter how strong of a lineup Arena sends out, an equally strong presence in the stands is as vital.
“We’re hopeful our people come out and support,” Arena said. “That’s going to be important. We know we’re going to have sold-out venues in Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico and we need to have an environment that helps support our team as well.”
The Galaxy have had international success in one of the previous incarnations of CONCACAF’s club championship. As winners of the 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup, the Galaxy were the second MLS club to hoist the regional club trophy. Arena’s D.C. United side was the first in 1998.
Since those early days, the tournament has morphed into a knockout tournament before it eventually added a group stage. This will be the Galaxy’s first venture into the new-look Champions League.
If Arena has anything to say about it, this trip will not be a short-lived experience.
“This is critical for us," he said. "This competition is big for our club. We want to be a factor in these kinds of competitions. We have to demonstrate how important it is by the turnout of our fans, and that will certainly help support our team. We really want to continue playing in this competition into next year.”