CARSON, Calif. – To win the CONCACAF Champions League and snag a berth in next December's FIFA Club World Cup, “you have to beat the best,” Robbie Keane said following the LA Galaxy's victory Wednesday night over Herediano.
That's what the Galaxy will have to do to reach the CCL final. After disposing of the Costa Ricans in the quarterfinals, LA get a pair of showdowns with Monterrey, winners of the last two tournament titles and champion or runners-up in Mexico's top league six times in the past decade and three times since 2009.
“Monterrey's been the best club in our region for a number of years now,” Bruce Arena noted following the Galaxy's 4-1 triumph Wednesday at the Home Depot Center. “They're the best team, they're the team to beat, so it's going to be a very big challenge for our club.”
The Galaxy will be home the first week of April for the first leg of the semifinal series, then head to Monterrey the following week hoping to claim a berth opposite the Seattle Sounders or Santos Laguna in the final. It's a matchup they're looking forward to.
Just not quite yet.
“We have Chivas on Sunday, we have Colorado [the following weekend] and then Toronto [the weekend after that],” said defender Omar Gonzalez, who scored LA's first goal Wednesday. “There's three more games before we can even start thinking about Monterrey.”
That didn't stop some of his teammates from doing so.
“They're the two-time defending champs, and you have to go through Mexico if you want to win this tournament,” said left back Todd Dunivant. “So we have to go through Mexico, and so does Seattle, so you couldn't have it any other way.”
Monterrey has lost just three times in 30 games in these past three CCLs – only once at home, a group clash against Seattle in August 2011 – and is 5-0-1 with four shutouts in the current competition. The Rayados' league form hasn't been so stellar (they're 11th in the Liga MX's Clausura with a 4-5-1 record heading into Saturday's game at Club Tijuana), but that won't mean a whole lot when they arrive in Southern California.
“Monterrey's great,” midfielder Mike Magee said. “We've seen them do amazing in tournaments, and playing in Monterrey is extremely difficult. Our veteran players are going to have to step up, and we're going to have to have some amazing, amazing performances against them.”
It would seem imperative for the Galaxy to head to Monterrey with an advantage, right? Depends whom you ask.
“You don't have to be [ahead],” Dunivant said. “You'd like to. It's 180 minutes, and that's the way we look at it. We're not going to be desperate to go forward. We realize it's a two-leg series, and we've done well in those series in the last couple of years.”
Magee isn't so sure, but he's confident.
“It is very difficult to win in Monterrey, so I would say we definitely have to win [at home],” he said. “And it's even more important not to concede a goal, because that away goal is huge. If we come out of here with a 1-0 win, I think we'd take that.”