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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
GALAXY: MLS building a tradition in Mexico

By Scott French

Bruce Arena
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says his team will be in for a much tougher battle in Mexico than two recent MLS teams that won games south of the border.

MORELIA, Mexico -- FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders made history, and if that was good for Major League Soccer, it wasn't so grand for the Galaxy.

MLS is 2 for 2 in CONCACAF Champions League clashes in Mexico this summer, quite an achievement -- at least at the surface -- after the league's teams failed to win south of the border in its first 21 tries.

The Galaxy tries to make it three in a row Tuesday night, when it takes on Morelia in a Group A showdown at Estadio Morelos that figures to be much tougher than what Dallas or Seattle had to overcome.



“I think that the results that Seattle and Dallas got don't help us, because I think Morelia will come close to playing a full [first-choice] team,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, whose team won its first two CCL games, over Honduran champion Motagua and Costa Rican titlist Alajuelense, at Home Depot Center. “Dallas played against reserves and youth players [in a victory last month at Pumas UNAM], Seattle didn't play against [defending champion Monterrey's] first team either.

“We're going to play against the first team. In my mind. ... I would think they're going to play their best team.”

It's a fine team, too, featuring Mexican national team forwards Rafael Marquez Lugo and Miguel Sabah, former national-teamer Jaime Lozano, Ecuadoran star Joao Rojas and center back Joel Huiqui, among others. The Monarcas, 1-1-0 in Group A, are rounding into top form and coming off a 1-0 triumph Saturday over mighty Cruz Azul in Mexico City.

“Having gotten a result this weekend makes it a little easier [for Morelia],” Arena said. “They're under a little pressure [at 3-3-1] in their league, and I think they would have been thrilled to come home with a point, and they got three. So that takes a little pressure off them. They can say this week this game is a little more important than [Friday's Primera Division encounter against Gallos Blancos de Queretaro].”

FC Dallas opened its CCL campaign Aug. 17 with a 1-0 win, on Marvin Chavez's goal, in Mexico City over Pumas. The reigning Primera champs left out most of their first-teamers. Seattle stepped up six days later for a 1-0 win, on a superb Alvaro Fernandez finish, at Monterrey.

“We don't talk about any of that stuff,” Arena said. “I think the players are aware of it. I think they go into these games believing they can get a result. I mean, that's half the battle. I would think for a number of years that teams in this league didn't even think they could get a result.”

There was good reason for that. From 1997, the first year MLS clubs were eligible for CONCACAF's club tournament, until 2008, Mexican foes won all nine meetings played on Mexican soil. They outscored the MLS teams, 29-3, and scorelines included 6-1, 6-0 and 5-0.

MLS has slowly improved since the switch of formats that followed, to the current nine-month, 24-team “league” modeled after Europe's Champions League, but its cumulative mark in Mexico as this year's edition kicked off was 0-17-4.

Arena guided D.C. United to the 1998 Champions' Cup title, winning a knockout tournament that wrapped up at RFK Stadium in Washington, the club's home field. (The Galaxy won its 2000 crown in L.A.).

“At that time, I think the Mexican league was in a completely different class than MLS,” he said. “We've closed the gap somewhat, but you can still argue that they have an edge, because their resources are greater to bring in players.”

Real Salt Lake played Monterrey to a draw in Mexico in the first leg of April's final in the last edition, then lost at home in the decisive clash. Not one Mexican victory in the 2010-11 tournament was by more than one goal.

“What’s happened in the past is that Mexican teams could field a B or a few members of their A team and some kids from the youth team,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. “But now they realize that it’s just not good enough and they’re not going to win that way.”

If they thought otherwise, FC Dallas and Seattle made the point.

“You’ve started to see that breakthrough, with Dallas and Seattle getting wins,” said Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant. “Hopefully, we can follow suit.”

WORTH NOTING: Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision will show the game at 5 p.m. ... Toronto FC plays at Pumas on Wednesday. MLS Cup champ Colorado plays at Santos next month. ... The Galaxy is without first-choice central midfielders David Beckham, who was left home to rest, and Juninho, who is suspended and injured. ... Morelia is 3-0-1 in its last four games after four losses -- three by shutout -- in its previous five matches. Rojas, who scored in all three of the victories, has been pivotal. “You could argue [that Rojas] is their best attacking player,” Arena said. Lozano plays behind Rojas, giving the Monarcas a potent left side. ... The Monarcas are named after monarch butterflies, which migrate to the highlands east of Morelia each fall and is a source of great pride in the city. The Michoacan license plates feature artwork of the butterflies.