CARSON, Calif. — Tuesday night's Leagues Cup semifinal against Cruz Azul arrives during a busy stretch of schedule for the LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2, TUDN in US; TSN1/4 in Canada), as they juggle the new competition with the quest to reach the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs after missing Major League Soccer's postseason the past two seasons.
It's the fourth game in 10 days for the Galaxy, who will then have another El Trafico showdown with LAFC coming on Sunday as part of Heineken Rivalry Week.
The new tournament for MLS and Liga MX clubs could make for some roster headaches, for sure, but head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto isn't unhappy his team is part of it.
“It's a benefit to have these type of games, because it's an opportunity for our youth players to demonstrate something we want to see tactically, from that side of things,” Schelotto said in Spanish during Monday afternoon's news conference at Dignity Health Sports Park. “This is very positive. This is very good that we can compete with a club like Cruz Azul [that has] a great coach, great players, and a lot of history in Mexican soccer.”
Schelotto left his three biggest names — striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, wing playmaker Cristian Pavon and midfield general Jonathan dos Santos — off his initial roster as part of a plan to send out a lineup of veterans, mostly reserves, and young players, as he did in last month's opening-round triumph over Club Tijuana.
Ibrahimovic and Pavon, along with LA Galaxy II goalkeeper Eric Lopez, were added to the roster Monday afternoon. However, both first-team players played most or all of the Galaxy's Aug. 11 loss at D.C. United, Wednesday's victory over FC Dallas and Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Seattle Sounders.
“The players need rest,” Schelotto explained. “Pavon arrived here, he played, he played again after the third day [and again three days later], so obviously if it hurts [us that he cannot play], not having him 100 percent [also would hurt]. We have obligations to play Sunday [against LAFC], and we know it's a match that's very important, not just from contextual stuff — the [rivalry] — but the points we can earn are very important for us for the future.”
Tuesday's winner will take on Club America or UANL Tigres on Sept. 18 in Las Vegas, and the Galaxy are looking to become the fifth MLS club to win a tournament featuring teams from Mexico's top division. D.C. United and the Galaxy won CONCACAF Champions' Cup titles two decades ago, the New England Revolution in 2008 prevailed in the short-lived Superliga, and Atlanta United FC last week toppled America to win the second edition of the Campeones Cup pitting MLS's champion against Liga MX's.
That serves as inspiration, Schelotto said.
“I think that it's very good for us that Atlanta was able to beat America ...,” the Argentine coach said. “I think it was very important for how Atlanta showed they are at the level of America or Mexican soccer. That's really good for us.”
Now it's the Galaxy's turn, and they aim, even possibly without a first-choice lineup, to succeed.
“It's not that we have an obligation, but we're the only MLS team [still alive]. We have to make it to the final,” Schelotto said. “We're going into [the game] knowing that we have a future with a lot of games, especially in the league, but it's a game in which we're committed [to doing out best] and coming in to hopefully win. ...
“This new [tournament] is good, and I think we can learn from one another. ... It's one of the best things that can happen for Mexico and the United States, this competition between us. It's going to help us elevate our style of play.”