Schelotto looks for LA Galaxy players to break through in Leagues Cup

CARSON, Calif. -- Servando Carrasco has been a Club Tijuana fan since the Xolos debuted during his late teens, so he's relishing the opportunity to test himself against the Liga MX club in a game that counts.

The LA Galaxy midfielder, who grew up in San Diego and Tijuana, knows the new Leagues Cup — an eight-team competition involving Major League Soccer and Mexican clubs that kicks off Tuesday — is a vital tournament for teams north of the border.

“I think it's a good measuring stick,” Carrasco said on the eve of the Galaxy's quarterfinal clash with the Xolos at Dignity Health Sports Park on Tuesday (11 pm ET | ESPN, TUDN in US; TSN1/4 in Canada). “They're a good club, they're a club that's done very well in kind of a short history, and it's a good chance to see where we're at, where [MLS] is at.

“There's always talk about that, about that rivalry [between MLS and Liga MX], if that's what you want to call it. ... It's another chance to show what we have and how this league has grown.”

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Mexican clubs have dominated the Concacaf Champions League, winning all 11 editions since the format change in 2008 -- with eight of the finals involving only Mexican teams -- but the Leagues Cup, Carrasco says, offers a more commensurate challenge.

“In many ways, maybe it's a little more fair right now, because we're both kind of fit,” he said. “When you talk about the Champions League, you talk about the fact that most of these teams in MLS are not game-fit [when the tournament is staged, during preseason and the first month of the MLS season]. If anything, it's more of a level playing field.”

The Galaxy, coming off a big victory over crosstown rival LAFC and facing a big road challenge Saturday against the Portland Timbers, figure to play primarily reserve players against Tijuana, although all but seven first-team players — defenders Daniel Steres and Rolf Feltscher, plus injured midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Romain Alessandrini, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius and Juninho — are on the 23-man tournament roster that was released Monday.

“For sure, we save some players for the game that we have Saturday,” said head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who confirmed that neither Zlatan Ibrahimovic nor Jonathan dos Santos would be involved. “But we are going to play tomorrow a game like Galaxy has to play: serious, professional, try to beat Tijuana [no matter which] names are on the field.”

Schelotto called up three Galaxy II players for the tournament — defender Nick DePuy and midfielders Kai Koreniuk and Don Tchilao — and several players who haven't received much first-team time also are expected to be in the lineup.

“It's a good opportunity for the players that don't get a lot of playing time to get some minutes,” rookie midfielder Emil Cuello said. “We're bringing up some guys from the second team as well. It's just a good opportunity against a good team, and we have to make the most of it.”

Schelotto called it a huge opportunity for the Galaxy II trio.

“This game is pretty important for me, [to] take some future decisions about [these] players ...,” he said. “It's a big opportunity for them. Big. Very big. It's not very common when you're playing in the second team to come to the first [team] and play this kind of game.”

It's a good opportunity, too, for Carrasco, who has seen just 274 on-field minutes in LA's first 21 league matches.

“We're going to take this game very seriously,” he said. “It's a good chance to play.”

Carrasco, who lived in Tijuana during his high school years, grew up following Chivas de Guadalajara but switched allegiances when Club Tijuana came along in 2007.

“It was crazy. I would drive by the stadium, or what they were building, and I was kind of like, 'Do I want to stay here and try to play for my home team?'” he said. “It's cool to see how the team has grown, how the city has embraced them. They've done very well [with a Liga MX title in the 2012 Apertura and first-place regular-season finishes in the 2016 Apertura and 2017 Clausura]. They keep expanding the stadium every year, keep building and building and building, and that's a reflection of the thirst for soccer in the area.

“There's a ton of talent, and the fan base is insane. I've got a bunch of friends that go to the games, and they tell me that the atmosphere is unreal."

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