Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Los Angeles Soccer [Print without images]

Monday, August 15, 2011
GALAXY: CCL start is must-win situation

By Scott French

CARSON -- The Galaxy have home games Tuesday night and next week to open their campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League, and there's not a whole lot of margin for error.


To claim one of two Group A berths in next year's quarterfinals in the region's club championship, the Galaxy must maneuver through a terrifically difficult six games over the next two months, and how they start likely will determine how they finish.

“It's not do or die,” defender Todd Dunivant said, “but at the same time, it really makes it a lot easier on us if we can get two wins in the first games. We don't want to be chasing it.”

Not in this group.

The Galaxy opens at Home Depot Center against reigning Honduran champion CD Motagua, which has more than a dozen players with international experience and two -- 2004 Major League Soccer MVP Amado Guevara and defender Sergio Mendoza -- who were in South Africa for last year's World Cup.

Next week brings Alajuelense, the reigning Costa Rican champ. The group's fourth team is Morelia, runner-up in Mexico's Clausura last spring. Is this the CCL's “Group of Death”?

“Seemingly,” Landon Donovan said. “Certainly, when you look at the other groups, you would say there are some weaker teams in the other groups. ... When we see Motagua, when we see Alajuela, when we see Morelia, we know they're three very good teams. It's going to be a difficult group. There's not going to be a lot that separates the four teams.”

The Galaxy is in command of MLS's Supporters' Shield race, and that trophy -- along with the MLS Cup prize, to be awarded Nov. 20 at HDC -- is the club's chief aim this season. Next on the priority list is this tournament, with next year's victor claiming a berth in the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was asked Monday if getting to the Club World Cup was the goal.

“That's down the road,” he said. “But you can't position yourself to be there unless you get out of the group stages. Our first priority in the Champions League is to try to qualify out of group play.”

To do so, L.A. almost certainly will need positive results in the first two matches. They'll play only one of their final four at home -- Sept. 28 against Morelia -- and points are hard to come by in Tegucigalpa, Alajuela and Morelia.

“You've got to win both,” Donovan said. “You can't expect that you're going to get a whole lot of points on the road, so we have to win out home games and get a few points on the road, and that's the way we'll qualify.”

Motagua has an impressive roster and, in former Guatemala and Honduras boss Ramon Maradiaga, one of the finest coaches in Central America.

The Ciclon Azul's big names include Guevara, 35, who had a brief stint with Chivas USA but is better known for his play with the New York Red Bulls/MetroStars and Toronto FC, and Guatemalan midfielder Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez, 33, who scored the golden goal to send the Galaxy past New England in the 2005 MLS Cup final. Midfielder Ivan Guerrero, 33, has the most MLS experience, seven seasons with Chicago, San Jose, D.C. United and Colorado.

Forward Jerry Bengtson, one of Central America's finest young players, is among several rising Honduran national-teamers.

“They're a good team,” Arena said. “They've got experienced players in every position, a lot of good, quality players. It's a team that has very good balance, very experienced coach, very experienced team.”

WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy won the CONCACAF Champions' League title in 2000. The current, extended format was adopted for the 2008-09 season, and Mexican clubs (Atlante in 2009, Pachuca in 2010, Monterrey last spring) have won every title since. ... Kickoff is 7 p.m., but Fox Soccer Channel's telecast is delayed until 9:30. ... The other Group A opener has Alajuelense at home against Morelia. Galavision's coverage begins at 7. ... The Galaxy didn't get out of the preliminary round last year, falling to the Puerto Rico Islanders in a home-and-home series after losing, 4-1, in their home leg. Arena, who was busy as MLS's All-Star Game coach and fielded a reserve lineup in the first game, said “that whole experience was stupid, and I should have basically ignored the whole All-Star Game thing and had our team more ready for that game.”