TIJUANA – The LA Galaxy know they're going to be pushed hard by Club Tijuana and their rabid crowd in Tuesday night's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal decider (10 pm ET, Fox Sports 2/Galavision). They're good with that.
“You look for these challenges as a player,” Robbie Keane said after LA's training session Monday night at Estadio Caliente. “You want to be put in difficult situations, because that's why we play the game, to be put in difficult situations and try to resolve them, to get out of them.”
They're certainly in a tough spot this time, in a hostile environment against a team with a spectacular home record – 27-4-13 in the last 20 months – and carrying enormous confidence after dominating the second half of last week's first leg, a 1-0 Galaxy victory.
It was an unfortunate result for the Xoloitzcuintles, and they made clear how important the rematch will be when they held back eight regulars – Darío Benedetto, Cristián Pellerano, Javier Gandolfi, Juan Carlos Nuñez, Joe Corona, Fernando Arce, Greg Garza and Fidel Martínez – from the trip to Mexico City for this past Saturday's 2-1 Liga MX loss to Cruz Azul.
The Galaxy can resolve the situation with a goal and a lot of stout defending, what got them through the first leg. A goal would be really nice: If they score once, the Xolos will need three to reach the semifinals.
“We have an advantage in that regard,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “But it's only halfway through the competition. A goal in our favor would go a long way to helping us advance. We know the importance of that. We don't anticipate being defensive for 90 minutes. We need to get a goal, we know that.”
Weathering Tijuana's initial thrust is pivotal.
“We have to soak everything up as quick as possible,” Keane said. “Try to get used to the surroundings, the atmosphere and the [artificial-turf] field, so certainly the first 15 to 20 minutes they'll want to come out and press us and try to play with high intensity. That's something we certainly have to be aware of.”
The turf isn't much of a concern. Arena said it was “much slower” and “probably better” than the artificial surfaces used in MLS.
More challenging is Tijuana's odd spacing and continuous interchanging, but it also leaves gaps, and the Galaxy have long thrived off the counterattack.
That's in their plans, to be sure, but LA plan to be proactive when opportunities arise.
“[Counterattacking is] something we're very used to, we're very, very comfortable doing,” Keane said. “But we're not going to be coming here to sit back and let them for 90 minutes keep the ball and attack on us for the whole game. We've got quality in this team that's capable of playing against any team and winning against any team.”