HEREDIA, Costa Rica – The LA Galaxy will be happy with a draw Thursday night against Herediano, but head coach Bruce Arena promises they won't play for one. They want to head home with a lead, of course.
To do so, he plans to field his “first team” in the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, a decision made simple by Major League Soccer's schedule-makers, who gave all three clubs participating in CCL this weekend off.
“Circumstances,” Arena said, “are different” than they were during the group phase, when LA played a primarily reserve side in the home romp over the Puerto Rico Islanders, the scoreless draw in the return match with the NASL club and the victory over Isidro Metapán in El Salvador.
“Right now, we don't have a game this weekend,” Arena continued. “We can play whomever we want and not have to be concerned about that for this game. We're certainly going to try to put a team out on the field that can win this game, no doubt about it. What we think is our first team.”
Then, depending on how that goes, he can determine what lineup to use in next week's second leg at the Home Depot Center, right?
“I'm not even worried about next week,” he said. “I'm worried about just getting through this game and seeing if we can get out of here safely, and get home and then worry about whatever we have to worry about then.”
Herediano posted shutouts in three of its four group-stage games, twice against Real Salt Lake. And they've found their attack since Marvin Solano took over as technical director last month from Mauricio Solís, scoring 2.25 goals per game while posting two draws followed by two victories.
Yendrick Ruiz has scored six goals in 10 league games for the fifth-place Florenses, and Minor Díaz, a seldom-used substitute under Solís, has won a starting job and scored in three straight games.
“[Solano has] kind of energized their team and changed the look of the squad,” noted Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant. “They have a lot of dangerous guys. They have Ruiz up top, who's really dangerous getting on the end of things, and they're very good being direct if they need to be but also have speed out wide, so they can cause problems on the flank.”
They'll have a full stadium – about 7,000 can fit within Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero's tiny confines – with Herediano's fans right on top of the field.
And the field itself could be problematic: Dunivant described the artificial surface as “not hard, but it's real bouncy. It's short, not very spongy,” but it's uneven, and “we've got to be careful in terms of back-passes and losing balls in bad spots, because it looks like it's rolling along the turf and it hops up.”
As expected, LA are approaching this contest as a 180-minute battle.
“So we have to be clever the way we approach the first leg,” captain Robbie Keane said. “We watched some videos of them, we know some of the players. It's going to be different because it's something we're not used to, to play on this field. It's going to be more beneficial to them than to us. We're in for a tough game, but we have to be clever.”