Central FC vs. LA Galaxy
2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League
August 23 | 7 pm ET | Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain
TV: Fox Soccer Plus
The Galaxy can join D.C. United in the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League with a draw or better in their first road encounter of the competition after dominating their Group D matches at home. They routed Trinidad and Tobago side Central FC, 5-1, on Aug. 6 – Giovani Dos Santos' LA debut – then followed with a 5-0 dismantling of Guatemalan powerhouse Comunicaciones nearly two weeks later. Both of their foes have one win from three games and both would need to topple the Galaxy, by as great a goal margin as possible, to keep LA from getting through to next year's quarterfinals. The odds aren't in their favor. The Galaxy could, however, use another big offensive explosion after three straight MLS matches without a goal, but they're expected to play a lineup similar to those in the first two games, a blend heavy on reserves with a handful of first-teamers and vital substitutes.
GROUP WINNERS: The Galaxy can claim their fourth CCL group title in as many attempts with just a draw after Central and Comunicaciones split their meetings, which would make LA's Oct. 21 Group D finale in Guatemala City solely about seeding for the knockout phase. Neither foe can finish with more than six points – LA's total through six games – and they've got to make up a huge goal difference, with the Galaxy at plus-9, Central at minus-4 and Comunicaciones at minus-5. The MLS Cup champions usually feast during the group stage, at 12-3-1 all-time, but those losses and that draw came on the road, where they've beaten only three teams: Motagua in 2011, Isidro Metapan in 2012 and Cartagines in 2013. They were blown out by Isidro Metapan, 4-0, two years ago in the most recent CCL group-stage away game, which played havoc with their seeding and led to their quarterfinal ouster by Club Tijuana.
DORMANT ATTACK: What's happened to the Galaxy that scored 50 goals in 15 competitive games from June 17 through Aug. 23? They've been shutout in their last three outings, and their goalless streak has reached 179 minutes, their second-longest of the season. They had scored 43 of those goals in nine home games, so their road form, while better (they captured their first three away wins since August 2014 during the stretch), hasn't been exemplary. This game gives head coach Bruce Arena a chance to shake up the lineup – none of the Designated Players traveled – mostly to keep some front-liners fresh ahead of Sunday's big Western Conference showdown with FC Dallas. “We probably have to get other players in,” Arena said after the weekend's league loss to RSL. “We'll score a goal by the end of the season, I'm sure of it.”
JUST STARTING: Central FC last spring won their first T&T Pro League title and claimed the CFU Club Championship to qualify for the CCL, but the only real games they've played since are the three Group D games, the one-sided loss at the Galaxy in early August and a home-and-home with Comunicaciones, with both games finishing 1-0 in favor of whoever hosted. Red cards deprived them of defender Jamal Jack for their win last week against the Guatemalans and midfielder Darren Mitchell for Wednesday's game. The Sharks weren't particularly organized at StubHub Center but have progressed since, though likely not enough to stave off elimination before their 2015-16 league opener Saturday at Point Fortin Civic.
INJURY REPORT: Jose Villarreal, sidelined since knocking knees with a Club America foe during an International Champions Cup friendly 10 weeks ago, is hoping to see action after Baggio Husidic and Edson Buddle returned from lengthy injury absences in the past two games. Defender Todd Dunivant, who hasn't played since July 21, is training fully but needs to build fitness and sharpness, and the training staff has been treating Bradford Jamieson IV gingerly following his second concussion of the summer.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
ALAN GORDON, LA GALAXY: The veteran forward is LA's chief weapon off the bench in MLS, and he's been sharp in the first two CCL matches, netting the opener in the first meeting with Central and scoring twice in the beat-down on Comunicaciones. He's not been as precise in MLS play, with just one goal since May 22 after hitting the net four times in the first 13 games, but LA has had ample scoring from other sources.
ATAULLAH GUERRA, CENTRAL: The 27-year-old forward/midfielder has netted both Sharks goals in the competition, converting a controversial penalty kick to pull Central even very early in the defeat at StubHub and tallying in the 61st minute to send the Sharks past Comunicaciones last week in Port of Spain. He's one of three Central players, with goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams and forward Willis Plaza, who featured for Trinidad and Tobago at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting the first two group games and coming on as a substitute in the penalty-kicks loss to Panama in the quarterfinals.