CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena believes faulty scheduling is the reason four of the five MLS teams competing in the CONCACAF Champions League face continental games this week, immediately prior to the final weekend of regular-season games. And he believes he could have done more to stop it.
“I think the whole exercise of us playing this week is stupid,” Arena said after the Galaxy's training session Tuesday morning at the StubHub Center. “I take the majority of the blame for that. I should not have allowed this to happen. But it's poor communications and procedure on the part of the LA Galaxy, CONCACAF and MLS."
Last year, when CONCACAF took the unusual step of implementing three-team groups in the Champions League, one team in each group began sitting out each matchday. With the five MLS teams spread out among four groups, only one MLS team is guaranteed to play in any particular week, but four of them face games this week, and three of those – the Galaxy are the exception – have yet to clinch quarterfinal qualification.
Sporting Kansas City and the San Jose Earthquakes both have Wednesday home games, while on Thursday, the Houston Dynamo play in Panama against Árabe Unido and the Galaxy play in El Salvador against Isidro Metapán (10 pm ET; Fox Sports 2). Montreal are the only MLS team that has already completed their CONCACAF schedule.
The Galaxy will be looking to earn the top seed in next year's quarterfinals (they currently trail Cruz Azul and Toluca by one goal; all three teams are 3-0) and have the advantage of playing the final game of the group stage, but Arena believes that four of the five MLS teams should have completed their group schedule earlier.
“This shouldn't have happened at this time of year; this should have been done earlier," Arena said. "There are teams in this [competition] that are finished [with group play], and there aren't any other leagues that are in their last week. So we should have been the league not playing this week.”
MLS teams have faced this dilemma repeatedly since the tournament's inception in the fall of 2008, with different managers taking a wide variety of approaches in terms of traveling and deploying their players and even their staffs.
This year, the Galaxy (Western Conference seeding) Sporting Kansas City (Supporters' Shield, Eastern Conference top seed) and Houston (playoff spot) all have big incentives to rest players ahead of their weekend games. San Jose remains mathematically alive but would need a miracle to snag an MLS playoff berth, and so the Earthquakes are expected to focus on Champions League play.
Arena last month blasted CONCACAF and MLS for the situation, saying they “screwed up the dates” MLS clubs were assigned and that LA should have played its four group games in August and September. Now he's accepting responsibility.
“In my opinion, we should not be playing,” he said. “I attribute that to me not being strong enough in getting this changed. That's my fault, I believe. I knew this last December, so I blame it on me that we're playing this week.”