TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – It was a long, winding road for the LA Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, but it was one that eventually ended in success thanks to a 1-0 win at Motagua on Thursday night that saw LA through to the quarterfinals.
The journey was full of heated moments (like Robbie Keane’s incorrectly voided goal vs. Morelia), and letdowns (like the poor performance at Alajuelense), and ultimately triumph when Juninho's first-half goal gave the Galaxy the win in the final group-stage match.
Finishing level on points with Morelia and Alajuelense, the Galaxy were able to top Group A due superior goal differential in the games disputed among the three teams.
Having accomplished one of the goals they set for themselves at the start of the season, the Galaxy couldn't help but reflect on the path that they took to qualification.
“I'm really proud of our guys,” said Landon Donovan, who started on the bench and played the last 29 minutes as a sub. “We knew that this tournament was going to be difficult because a lot gets thrown at you, but we're fortunate. We've got a lot of guys who have been through a lot of these games and know what to expect.”
Although the Galaxy were victorious in the end, Motagua provided a true test. Former MLS MVP Amado Guevara frequently challenged the visitors’ backline, putting them in dangerous spots during the second half.
And as if fending off Guevara and Motagua wasn’t hard enough, the Galaxy had to traverse the vast field at the Estadio Nacional that LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders described as “playing on sand.”
On top of all that, LA’s victory didn’t come without an ounce of luck – something almost completely alien to the club throughout the course of the Champions League.
In Motagua’s last-gasp effort to play spoiler, Guillermo “Pando” Ramírez brought down the ball inside the box in the 90th minute, but Frankie Hejduk managed to poke it away. The loose ball, however, fell to Jerry Bengtson, who took it on the bounce and launched his shot over the crossbar.
“We did a pretty good job [at the end of the match],” said Donovan. “Our center backs were great dealing with Bengtson, who was a handful all night. And I think after about 15 or 20 minutes in the 2nd half, we kind of settled down, were steady passing. We ended up actually getting some good chances to score, but we did a good job seeing out the game.”
Perhaps it's fate that the Galaxy received their warmest reception in the place where they would eventually qualify. Gone were the jeers and obscenities that were commonplace in Costa Rica and Mexico, instead replaced by droves of manic fans wearing Galaxy jerseys who cheered the club wherever they went.
Having done their job and booked their ticket into the quarterfinals, LA were free to bask in the glow of their warm reception.
“We want to thank them as a country and as a city because the reception after the stadium was a great atmosphere and a great atmosphere to play in as well,” said David Beckham. “It makes it even more special when you go home with three points.”
Adam Serrano can be reached at email@example.com.