TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The LA Galaxy's task in Honduras on Thursday is simple: Beat Group A bottom-feeders Motagua and clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
While it may be easy on paper, the task will be much more difficult, thanks to a wise opponent and a tough venue (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
Despite winning just one match in their past 11 games in all competitions, Motagua have plenty of talent. They are led by former MLSers Guillermo “Pando” Ramírez and Amado Guevera, as well as Honduran national team star Jerry Bengtson.
As is always the case in Central America, the Galaxy will need to conquer the imposing conditions as well as their opponents. Both Alajuelense and Morelia were victorious at Estadio Nacional, which boasts a vast field – 120 feet by 80 feet – and holds as many as 35,000 people.
“It's not going to be easy,” defender Todd Dunivant told reporters on Wednesday, “but the other two teams [in the group] have done it, and we've got to follow in those footsteps.”
One Galaxy player has intimate knowledge of the imposing venue. Chad Barrett played here during last year’s CCL preliminary rounds while he was a member of Toronto FC, and scored in the second leg what ended up being the decisive goal that put the Reds through to the group stage. He hopes to use that knowledge and experience to lead LA to victory.
“I've played on this field, it just plays slow and these guys can play 60 to 70 yard balls on a dime,” said Barrett, who has scored three goals in his last four games. “It's about possessing the ball and trying to control the pace of the game then go from there.”
Central to the Galaxy's possession game will be the presence of Landon Donovan. The team captain has struggled with a quadriceps injury in recent weeks and was unable to train on Tuesday prior the team’s departure for Central America. However, he participated in training on Wednesday and the Galaxy are optimistic that he will be able to play a role – be it starting or off the bench – on Thursday.
“We're hopeful that he's ready to play,” head coach Bruce Arena said on Wednesday. “He's looked OK; it's been awhile since he's been on the field, so we need to be smart, but he's pretty much healed and has made a lot of progress. “
Donovan is not the only question mark for the Galaxy as Arena said it's likely that Josh Saunders will start in goal in place of Donovan Ricketts, who has suffered through his own quad injury. That adds to an injury list that already includes forward Robbie Keane, who will miss the match with an adductor strain.
Regardless of who is on the field, the Galaxy understand they need to bring their best if they want to advance.
“We need to make this game big in our minds,” said Barrett, “which it is, because we have to win. If we win, then we go through to [the quarterfinals] and we would have succeeded in two of the three goals that we set out to accomplish this year.”
Adam Serrano can be reached at email@example.com.