CARSON, Calif. – The start of the new season perhaps arrived a bit too quickly for the LA Galaxy, who for all intents and purposes remain in preseason mode as they prepare for Wednesday night's first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series, at home against Santos Laguna (10 pm ET, FS1/UDN).
No matter. The schedule says play now, so they'll play now.
“We're not going to make any excuses,” forward Mike Magee said after Monday's training session at StubHub Center. “Obviously, you'd love to be playing this near the end of the season, but that's not the format. We're not going to make excuses.”
Perhaps not, but there's plenty of reasons why the Galaxy ought to struggle in the opener at StubHub and next week's return leg in Torreon.
They're still integrating nearly a dozen new players, including a handful of key starters, into the group, and nobody aside from goalkeeper Dan Kennedy played a full 90 in any of the five preseason matches. And Santos are seven games into their Liga MX campaign, more or less in midseason form.
“It's always hard playing in this competition in this point of the year, because these teams are seven games into the regular season,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “That's a big difference, but an MLS team has to win at some point. ...
“Obviously, our preseason was cut short by a week and a half [to play this game]. It makes it even tougher, but I think we're going to be ready.”
The plus is that the three biggest names among the newcomers -- Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, English defender Ashley Cole and Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme -- have extensive experience in such competitions, in UEFA's Champions League and/or World Cups, and they know how to approach things.
“Of course, we have to win at home,” Cole said. “So we're going into it, of course, to win, but also not to concede goals, because you still want to have a chance going into the second leg. So you don't want to be too gung ho in the first leg, and then you find it even more difficult in the second leg.
“We know we have to defend well as a team, not concede a goal, and, hopefully, get a few goals ourselves to take to the second leg.”
Captain Robbie Keane, in a teleconference Monday previewing the game, says one “can't really tell too much [whether the team is ready] until you start the really competitive games,” and although Santos “of course” has an advantage, “if anyone [from MLS] has a chance, it's certainly us.”
If everything clicks, that is.
“We're still trying to get to know each other, and, obviously, we have a lot of new bodies, and we've had some injuries and guys are still coming back,” DeLaGarza said. “I still think we have a team that's capable of winning this competition, and, hopefully, we'll see that on Wednesday.”
Head coach Bruce Arena says the Galaxy have to “get out and play on Wednesday and figure it out, see if any of this stuff makes sense.”
“It's been a good preseason, and, obviously, all of our players didn't arrive at the same time, but I think the late additions, with Van Damme and Cole and de Jong, have done well,” he said. “No question I think two months into the MLS season, our team should be in a good place. It's a little early right now, but, given that, the new players have fit in quite well.”
The Galaxy have won just one of five knockout-round home-and-homes in the CCL, a quarterfinal triumph over Costa Rica's Herediano three years ago. They've lost both series against Mexican opposition, falling in the semifinals to Monterrey in 2013 after conceding twice in the last 10 minutes after leading in their home leg, then losing in the quarterfinals to Club Tijuana two years ago after taking a 1-0 edge to the second leg in Baja California.
Santos have been hit and miss in Liga MX this season, sitting 10th with a 3-3-1 record and no wins since January. They've got an excellent striker in Cape Verdean Djaniny Tavares, an expert goalkeeper in Argentine Agustin Marchesin, and a familiar face in left back Jorge Villafaña, who played at StubHub with Chivas USA before winning MLS Cup last year with the Portland Timbers.
“I think both teams are pretty evenly matched,” Arena said. “Obviously, they have a little advantage, being seven games into their season, but we're pretty confident with the group we're going to put on the field. ... We certainly want to go out there and feel comfortable and have the momentum in the game and try to take the game to them.”