Victory in Thursday night's CONCACAF Champions League group finale at Isidro Metapán will give the LA Galaxy an optimal quarterfinal seeding. Defeat could be disastrous (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
So don't tell them this one doesn't matter.
The Galaxy clinched the Group 5 title and a subsequent quarterfinal berth a month ago and have taken a small group (only 15 players) primarily made up of reserves — only midfielder Marcelo Sarvas and, for the moment, center back Tommy Meyer can be considered first-choice starters — to Central America for their final group match, but there is no doubt about their intent.
“Winning is the primary aim,” manager Bruce Arena told MLSsoccer.com before catching the flight to San Salvador. The secondary aim? “To win.”
That would certainly make things simpler for next year's knockout stage. A victory would virtually ensure the Galaxy the No. 4 seed and an assignment against Herediano, the Costa Rican club that eliminated Real Salt Lake from the competition Tuesday night, or Guatemala's Xelajú, should it win or draw against Chivas Guadalajara in Thursday's Group 8 finale.
Seven of the eight quarterfinalists have been determined — Guadalajara must beat Xelajú to snag the final berth — but only the top three seeds are certain: Monterrey, followed by Santos Laguna and the Seattle Sounders. LA could drop in anywhere from fourth to eighth, depending on Thursday night's results.
“[Seeding] does matter now, now that we're in the last game and it's all said and done,” said Arena, who had previously downplayed the battle for positioning. “Now it leaves some position to kind of control our seeding. So it does matter now. In games one, two and three, we had no control of that.”
Defeat would bring a most unattractive quarterfinal assignment as the No. 8 seed against Monterrey or No. 7 seed against Santos, both Mexican powerhouses that dominated their first-round groups. A draw would leave LA either sixth (and a match-up against Seattle) or seventh.
A victorious Galaxy would get the No. 5 seed and a likely matchup against Costa Rican champs Herediano.
LA aren't thinking solely about how the bracket will fill out.
“We're bringing a young team,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “We're all eager to prove ourselves. The seeding is important, but I think that for most of us, it's just a great opportunity to showcase what we've done this year and finish off strong and leave a lasting impression of us as players.”
Arena has used a reserve lineup in two of the first three Champions League group games and a chief desire is to give “all the players an opportunity."
They've had a good season ... and deserve the opportunity to go," he said. "It's another game about moving players along.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.