CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy pushed their way into next year's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals back on Sept. 25, and now they get to choose their quarterfinal opponent.
Well, sort of.
The Galaxy play the final group-stage game in the competition on Thursday night in El Salvador against Isidro Metapán (10 pm ET, FOX Sports 2), which affords them a distinct advantage as they jockey for seeding among the eight group winners.
Six of the other seven groups are done, and the seventh will be after Houston's game in Panama against Árabe Unido (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus), which kicks off two hours before LA takes on Metapán knowing that a sizable victory would give them the No. 1 seed when the tournament resumes next March.
“Bruce gave us a breakdown there, the point situation,” said midfielder Michael Stephens, who started LA's first three Group 8 games, home victories against Cartaginés and Metapán and last month's triumph in Costa Rica. “It's important as far as seeding goes that we finish strong: a win and as many goals as we can get to set ourselves up for the next round.”
The Galaxy, who will play a largely reserve lineup bolstered by the availability of midfielder Juninho, could be seeded anywhere from first to sixth in their third consecutive quarterfinal appearance, but a victory at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador would ensure a spot among the top three.
Mexican powers Toluca and Cruz Azul already have 12 points, and the Galaxy (who have outscored foes 6-0) need to win by three goals to claim the second seed from Cruz Azul (10-2) and six to surge past Toluca (15-4) for the No. 1 spot. The top seed will face the San Jose Earthquakes in the quarterfinals, but the rest of the potential matchups will not be known until the Dynamo's game has ended.
“There's no sense in spending a whole lot of time on it now,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “There's a lot of things that can happen, but we have the luxury of knowing where everyone stands before we play our game.”
Avoiding Mexico's entrants is always a good thing, and LA probably need only draw to make certain of that. Along with Toluca and Cruz Azul, Club Tijuana will almost certainly be one of the top four seeds, unless Houston win by four goals.
So a win or a draw would leave the Galaxy paired with Costa Rica's Alajuelense, the Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City or the Houston-Árabe Unido survivor. More than picking an opponent, the Galaxy want to win – by as many goals as possible.
“Whoever we face, we face,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “We'll know who we face, depending on how we do, before the game even starts, but for these players in the locker room who have worked so hard this year in the Reserve League and CONCACAF, it's good to go out on top and reward ourselves.”