CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy have decent insight into how Club Tijuana are to challenge them after weathering a difficult second half to win the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. They understand it's not going to be easy.
The Xolos dominated the action after the break last week but couldn't find the net, so they're looking to overcome a 1-0 deficit in Tuesday night's second leg in front of an intensely loyal crowd right on top of the field at Estadio Caliente a few miles south of the border (10 pm ET, Fox Sports 2/Galavision).
“It's going to be very hard, we know that,” midfielder Marcelo Sarvas told reporters late last week. “We saw a little bit of that in the second half [Wednesday], when they pushed forward. We just have to prepare our mind for the worst, for sure, not only on the field but in the stands, with their fans. But I think we have mature players and the character to go there and face this game in the right way.”
Associate head coach Dave Sarachan said he expects the match to quickly become “very hectic, very high energy. They're going to throw a lot at us.”
The Galaxy got a pretty good sense of what the Xolos are about during the first game, but that doesn't necessarily provide solutions to what they do. Tijuana have an unorthodox system, overloaded in the middle and on the right, with significant interchange among the five or six primary attacking players.
“It makes it a little tricky on us to try to prepare, because they interchange quite a bit,” Sarachan said. “I still couldn't tell you the complete system they play. It's an evolving kind of system, which makes it somewhat tricky when you're trying to defend that.”
Defender James Riley noted that Tijuana are “a very narrow team.”
“They put a lot of numbers in the midfield to control the tempo of the game, then they have their outside back really press up the field,” said Riley, who played at left back in the first leg. “They're a good team. We'll continue to watch tape and analyze them and then look for areas we think we can take advantage of and look for areas where we thought we were a bit weak and look to correct those.”
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The Xolos' attacking talent impressed the Galaxy, especially Argentine forward Darío Benedetto, who came off the bench in the 60th minute and immediately created one of the game's best scoring chances.
“If he plays next game, more than 80 minutes,” midfielder Baggio Husidic said, “it's going to be difficult for us.”
It's about finding the gaps and exploiting them, and LA hope they can effectively counterattack. An away goal would be huge for the Galaxy, requiring Tijuana to score at least three to advance to the semifinals.
“[An early goal] would be ideal ...” Sarachan said. “For us, getting the clean sheet at home was monumental. We would have loved two goals, but keeping a clean sheet gives us the incentive now to just get one on the road.”
That might prove challenging. Tijuana will be ready to apply heavy pressure from the start, and an early goal could lead quickly to another and perhaps another. The Galaxy, Riley noted, “don't want to bunker in and defend for 90 minutes.” They'll need some success higher up the field to survive.
“I think this is something different,” Sarvas said. “We're not used to playing these kind of games with these kind of fans in the stadium, this kind of Mexican style of play ....
"It's a war. You have to challenge every ball, you cannot lose 50-50 balls, you have to show them you are there. You are not there to get punished, you're there to fight.”