CARSON, Calif. – The doomed battle with Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals last spring remains a what-if moment for this LA Galaxy team, which believes a regional championship is within grasp, as long as they take advantage of their opportunities.
The Galaxy lost that one after conceding two late goals in the first leg, at home, and it provides some motivation as they begin their campaign Tuesday night in the current Champions League against Costa Rican club Cartaginés (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus).
Winning the home games now is vital if LA are going to contend for the title next year.
“One would have to think you need to win this [game] to advance,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said following Monday's training session in the StubHub Center's main stadium. “There's only three teams in the group. If you don't win at home, your chances of advancing are reduced greatly. Or your chances of not advancing are increased greatly, I would say.”
LA play their first two Group 8 games at home, the second on Sept. 18 against El Salvador's Isidro Metapán, and both are must-win. Cartaginés beat Metapán in the Aug. 8 group opener, and if they can pull off an upset at StubHub, they might have nine points before the Galaxy play again – and be in position to clinch in the Sept. 25 return match.
The Galaxy need to stop forward Pablo Herrera, who had a hat trick in Cartaginés' 4-2 win over Metapán and scored the lone goal in a league victory Saturday at Carmelita. They're certainly familiar with midfielder Paolo Cardozo, who spent a season-and-a-half with LA and has come off the bench in two of three league and CCL matches Los Azules have played.
Costa Rican teams traditionally have a lot of skill but lack structural organization on the field, a weakness LA can exploit – especially if Cartaginés aren't going to sit back and defend for a draw.
“If they sit back, it's not the best for them, because they don't keep the lines,” said Marcelo Sarvas, who came to the Galaxy following a stint in Costa Rica with Alajuelense. “It's not what they normally do.”
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Said defender Todd Dunivant: “If we sort our matchups out, I think we'll have a lot of space to counter.”
That could be critical, because the Galaxy's aim isn't just to win, but to win big. Seeding for next year's knockout stage is based largely on goal difference. And the real aim is to be in position come February.
“The Champions League is really important,” Dunivant said. “You've seen the league put a lot more emphasis into it the past few years, and that starts with us as well. In the past, it was a competition that you wanted to do well in, but if you don't, you can make up excuses why you don't do well.
"I think we're starting to throw those out the window a little bit and know that if we want to continue to progress this league, we need to win our region and we need to be the best, have the best team in the region. It's a huge priority.”