Los Angeles Soccer: Alajuelense
The Galaxy made it official Tuesday that Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas has signed with the club on a free transfer from Costa Rican champion Alajuelense.
Sarvas last week told a Costa Rican website that he had agreed to a two-year deal with the Galaxy, choosing it over a three-year offer from Alajuela, and L.A. boss Bruce Arena acknowledged his signing during a media teleconference Monday.
“We've signed that player, and we will in the next day or two get out a release on him,” Arena said. “He's a good, experienced, two-way midfielder I think is going to help our team. ...
“He's played against us twice this year [in the CONCACAF Champions League]. Good player. Good passer, experienced, a two-way midfielder. I think he's going to be a good addition.”
The agreement is pending a physical exam and receipt of his International Transfer Certificate. No terms were announced.
CARSON -- The Galaxy now know what's needed in Honduras: a victory.
What they don't know is whether they'll have their captain for Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League group finale against Motagua.
Landon Donovan, nursing a quadriceps injury suffered Oct. 1 against Real Salt Lake, said Tuesday he wasn't sure he'll be ready to go in the Group A clash, which will determine whether the Galaxy moves on to next year's quarterfinals or exits the competition.
“We'll determine [if I'm playing] on Thursday,” said Donovan, who spent Tuesday's practice session in the trainer's room. “We'll just play it day by day and see what we get to Thursday. ... The body's weird. Sometimes you heal quickly, sometimes you don't. I have every intention of playing, but if I'm not ready, I'm not ready.”
The Galaxy is in must-win territory again after Morelia's 2-1 comeback win Tuesday night over Costa Rican champion Alajuelense in the other Group A finale. Morelia, from Mexico, qualified for the knockout stage with the result, captured on goals three minutes apart early in the second half by Joao Rojas and Miguel Sabah.
It wasn't unexpected. The Galaxy, which with different results might have required no more than a tie or even a tight defeat, had figured all along they could triumph only with a triumph.
“We need to get a result,” David Beckham said before Morelia's victory. “It's going to be a tough place to go and win, but it's a must. We have to go there and win.”
Morelia and Alajuela are 4-2-0 with 12 points. The Galaxy (3-2-0) would pull even with a victory but finish atop the group with better goal difference (plus-1) in matches among the three. Morelia (even) beats Alajuelense (minus-1) in the same tiebreaker. (Alajuela will advance if L.A. fails to win.)
The key result in all this was the Galaxy's 2-0 victory Aug. 25 at Home Depot Center over Alajuela, on goals by Omar Gonzalez and Chad Barrett. The home team won every other meeting among the trio by one goal.
The final round of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League begins Tuesday night, and the biggest game -- for the Galaxy's purposes, at least -- has Costa Rican champ Alajuelense visiting Mexico's Morelia.
The teams are 1-2 in Group A, with the Galaxy sitting third, and what happens won't matter to L.A. as long as it wins Thursday night against Motagua in Honduras. That'll give it one of the group's two berths in next year's quarterfinals.
What happens at Estadio Morelos -- kickoff is 5 p.m. PT, Telefutura (KFTR/Channel 46) will televise -- will determine exactly what the Galaxy needs in Tegucigalpa:
- If Morelia wins: The Galaxy must defeat Motagua.
- If Alajuelense wins: The Galaxy needs only a draw to advance. If Alajuela wins by three goals, the Galaxy could lose by one goal as long as they can catch or surpass Morelia for total goals. With more goals, they would get through. If even, lots would be drawn to determine who moves on. If Alajuela wins by four, a one-goal loss of any scoreline would be enough for L.A.
- If it's a draw: The Galaxy must defeat Motagua.
1. Alajuelense (Costa Rica) 4-1-0 (7-4) 12 points
2. Morelia (Mexico) 3-2-0 (9-4) 9
3. Galaxy 3-2-0 (7-4) 9
4. Motagua (Honduras) 0-5-0 (2-13) 0
Alajuelense won its game Thursday night in the CONCACAF Champions League, surging to a three-point lead over the Galaxy and Morelia in Group A.
The Costa Rican champions' odds of reaching next year's knockout stage: not good.
The CCL's “group of death” has followed form throughout, and if next month's group finales continue the process, it's the Galaxy and Morelia which will be moving on to the quarterfinals.
Alajuela (4-1-0) edged visiting Motagua, 1-0, on Jonathan McDonald's first-half header and will need only a draw in its Oct. 18 showdown at Morelia to advance. The Galaxy moves on with a win Oct. 20 at Morelia, no matter what happens two days earlier.
The Galaxy (3-2-0), Morelia (3-2-0) and Alajuela have won every home game, and the Monarcas and La Liga won their games at Honduran champion Motagua (0-5-0). Morelia will be heavily favored to beat Alajuela, and the Galaxy might find the going easy in Honduras, with their foe focusing on domestic matters.
Motagua is one of just two of the 16 teams in the group stage that have been eliminated from contention -- Costa Rica's Herediano is the other.
Morelia could have clinched a quarterfinal berth with a draw Wednesday night at Home Depot Center, but Juninho scored from a corner kick in second-half stoppage to give the Galaxy a 2-1 victory. Had Juninho not scored -- or if it had been called back because Todd Dunivant, who wasn't active in the play, was in an offside position, Alajuelense's victory would have eliminated L.A.
If the Galaxy and Morelia win their final matches, all three leaders will have 12 points. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, and all three would be 2-2-0 in games among the three.
Alajuela's 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League triumph Wednesday night at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto won't be remembered for much more than the intensity of the Costa Rican fans and Pablo Antonio's exquisite first-half free kick that provided the lone goal.
The Galaxy (2-2-0) dropped to third in the Group A with the defeat, behind Alajuelense (3-1-0) and Morelia (3-1-0), which picked up a road win Thursday, winning, 2-0, against Motagua in Honduras.
Home teams have won every game in the group except the two in Tegucigalpa, and therein lies the Galaxy's path to next year's knockout stage of the region's club championship. It's rather simple, really: Win the last two group games -- against Morelia on Wednesday night at Home Depot Center and Oct. 20 at Motagua -- and L.A. is through.
All because the loss in suburban San Jose was, in one very real sense, a victory. Not that it felt like one.
Landon Donovan said the Galaxy “were a little naïve in the way we played, the way we went about things” and David Beckham acknowledged that L.A., after Donovan went just wide with a rebound in the fourth minute, didn't “create too much after that” and that “sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by a team that performed better on the night and also scored a great goal.”
“I don't think we played well,” Arena said. “The field was real difficult to play on. Obviously, our opponent is more comfortable on the surface. We're not using it as an excuse, but it's a terrible field to play this kind of competition on. ... You don't want to use that as an excuse. That would not be fair. That would not give our opponent the credit they deserve.”
Winning on the road, especially in Mexico and Central America, is difficult in the Champions League, and field conditions are part of it. Alajuela's turf is similar to Club Tijuana's at Estadio Caliente: green plastic with rubberized pellets that offers little give and unnatural bounces, and La Liga's manager, Oscar Ramirez, didn't disagree with Arena's assessment.
“It's difficult in Costa Rica,” he said through an interpreter. “We don't have the kinds of fields you have in the U.S. It's difficult for grass. It rains too much.”
That's true. San Jose is surrounded by rain forests, and torrential rains hit both days the Galaxy was in town, almost like clockwork, right around 2 p.m. How that impacts grass fields is anyone's guess, but Alajuela knows its advantages and used them against the Galaxy.
ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- Had the Galaxy held on to a lead in the final 10 minutes of last week's defeat at Morelia, their place in next year's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals would be more or less assured.
After a second successive road loss in the region's club championship, their hopes of making the knockout stage are in doubt.
Costa Rican champion Alajuelese used a terrific free kick by Pablo Antonio and a superb performance from its backline Wednesday night to surge atop the Group A standings with a 1-0 triumph in front of a singing, chanting, swearing -- at David Beckham, mostly -- crowd at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in the San Jose suburbs.
La Liga (3-1-0) moved three points above Mexico's Morelia, which plays Thursday, and the Galaxy (2-2-0), which will be in must-win territory next week at Home Depot Center in its rematch with the Mexicans, dropped from the top spot to third. Only the top two advance from the group stage.
They'll have to win without Beckham.
The Galaxy star -- cheered and jeered by a nearly packed house at the compact stadium -- picked up his second yellow card of Group A play seven minutes into the second half after tripping Luis Miguel Valle in midfield.
Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell delayed his decision, reaching for the card only after lobbying from Alajuelense players, and it carries a one-game suspension.
Alajuela went ahead in the 28th minute. Juninho knocked Jonathan McDonald off the ball about 10 yards above the semicircle, and Antonio's left-footed free kick curled into the upper-left corner, beyond outstretched goalkeeper Josh Saunders' arms.
Saunders never had a chance.
Antonio was sensational. Nominally a left-sided midfielder, La Liga's captain roamed inside at will, working with central midfielder Marcelo Fazzio to connect the Alajuelense attack, surging forward at opportune times and testing L.A.'s defense with several shots from distance -- most off-target, if just barely, but all of them sharp and tidy.
ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- It's a three-team battle for two berths in the CONCACAF Champions League's knockout stage, and whether the Galaxy grabs one of those slots could depend on what happens Wednesday night at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto.
L.A. (2-1-0) takes on Costa Rican champion Alajuelense (2-1-0) needing at least one point -- and preferably three -- to maintain command of its Group A prospects, and it's not going to be simple.
Alajuela has a quality side, to be sure, one bolstered by the presence of a half-dozen rested starters forced to miss last weekend's league clash (while suspended for a brawl in La Liga's previous game). But it's the club's fans, and the atmosphere they create in the cramped, aging neighborhood stadium that could make the difference.
Playing in Central America always is an adventure, and taking on Alajuelense on its home field might be the most difficult assignment in the region.
“It's an intimidating venue,” says Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant, who played at Morera Soto in a Champions' Cup qualifier nearly a decade ago while with the San Jose Earthquakes. “We've tried to give the guys kind of what to expect. It's going to be people up against the cages, pounding, yelling everything you can imagine. It's going to be a hostile environment, for sure. We're trying to get guys prepped for that.”
That's not easy to do. There is no similar environment certainly in Major League Soccer, maybe nowhere in North America and in only a few places around the globe. The stadium is small, box-like, and the stands rise like a wall of people towering over an unforgiving artificial-turf field.
“You're down in the locker room,” Dunivant said, “and the stands are right above you. ... You can hear everything, and they're stamping and the fans are going crazy. The locker room is like 8 by 10 [feet]. Guys got to see it today, and they got a little bit of a feel. It was an advantage to come out and kind of see what we can expect.”
The Galaxy can use every advantage it can find. They're even on points with Morelia (2-1-0) and Alajuelense but sit atop Group A because of head-to-head results among the trio. If not for last week's collapse in Mexico, where Morelia rallied with two goals in the final 10 minutes for a 2-1 triumph, L.A. would be on the verge of clinching a spot in next year's quarterfinals.
Instead, there's three games left -- and picking up road points is mandatory. Only Alajuela has done so, last week winning at last-place Motagua, from Honduras. A road win over one of the group's contenders, or even a draw, will go a long way.
“When you play a round-robin like this, any time you get a point on the road, it's getting a point and taking points away [from your opponent], so it's crucial,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. “That's why the Mexico result hurt.”
It was 5½ years ago, and the Galaxy watched a two-goal halftime lead disappear in the second leg of a Champions' Cup series against Saprissa -- Alajuelense's archrival -- then lost in overtime after a phantom foul gave the Costa Ricans a free kick near the corner flag.
That wasn't what hurt.
“I remember starting really well, being up two goals, and then I remember us giving up a few bad goals and then losing eventually, 3-2,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said Tuesday. “But mostly what I remember was that that was the trip when Doug Hamilton passed away.”
Hamilton, just 43, was the Galaxy's esteemed general manager. He suffered a fatal heart attack flying home from the game as the team headed to Tamarindo, on Costa Rica's west coast, for four planned days of rest and relaxation.
The excursion was head coach Steve Sampson's idea. He had been Costa Rica's national team boss a couple of years earlier and knew that his players, preparing to defend their 2005 MLS Cup championship, would love the chance to see one of the world's most beautiful spots.
CARSON -- Word came down Thursday: This weekend's game at New York was off, thanks to Hurricane Irene, so all the guys who had the night off were going to be needed after all.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, no longer needing to rest a few players for Sunday's Major League Soccer showdown, was able to send out a first-choice lineup for his team's CONCACAF Champions League clash, and the reward was a 2-0 triumph over Costa Rican champion Alajuelense.
David Beckham, who wasn't going to play, was pivotal, crossing in the corner kick that Omar Gonzalez headed home in the 38th minute and piercing Alajuela's backline with pass that led to Chad Barrett's 77th-minute finish as L.A. cemented its spot atop Group A with two wins in two home games.
“That was the goal,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. “We didn't play great ... but we made the plays we needed to win the game, and at the end of all of it, we have six points from our two home games, which we wanted. It's a perfect night for us.”
Well, not quite. L.A. lost defender Gregg Berhalter in the first half to a possible broken foot, saw midfielder Juninho red-carded near the end, and picked up yellow cards -- some deserved, but one of them an utter joke -- that could have a mighty imprint as the tournament proceeds.
Two cautions in group play means a suspension, so Beckham, Donovan and Mike Magee are halfway there after Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez, in a questionable performance, showed each the yellow card.
“It becomes a factor in the competition,” Arena noted. “You frown sometimes when the cards are wrong. When they're right, you frown. And it adds up, and it distorts the competition if it's not right. Our guys have got to adjust to this kind of officiating. It's all part of it, and we've got to be better about dealing with it.”
Beckham's “very weird” yellow, for wasting time as he tried to take a corner kick in the 31st minute, was astounding. Beckham asked the linesman, Jose Luis Camargo, to move out of his path so he could take the kick. Camargo, Beckham said, “told me where to go,” and Rodriguez raced over to show the Galaxy star the yellow card.
“I expected another yellow card, to be honest, at some point, because that's the way the officiating had gone all night,” Beckham said. “I think it was a disgrace at times. That's something you have to put up with in these competitions. It's unfortunate.”
Rodriguez, who has officiated at the last two World Cups, whistled 36 fouls, and his linesmen flagged 13 plays offside -- a hefty number. Asked about the officiating, Arena said: “It is what it is. You can make your own conclusions to that. We certainly saw him out there. His presence was certainly known tonight.”
Irish forward Robbie Keane, making his second appearance for the Galaxy, said the game “was a bit dead, to be honest with you,” with Rodriguez's constant whistles making for a choppy encounter.
Keane and the Galaxy take on Costa Rican champion Alajuelense in a CONCACAF Champions League clash Thursday night at Home Depot Center, looking for another Group A victory after the club opened its campaign with a 2-0 triumph last week over Honduran champ Motagua.
What does he know about the CCL? “Not too much, to be honest with you.” About Costa Rican soccer? “Not too much, to be totally honest with you.”
How about Alajuelense?
“I'm not sure about the team. Everything is, obviously, fairly new to me,” Keane said after training Wednesday at HDC. “As soon as I've played against these teams, been here for a little longer, I'll understand the teams I'm playing against.
“Sometimes it's nice going into games not knowing who you're playing against. You've got nothing to worry then.”
Alajuela is a huge name in the region, one of the greatest of Central American clubs -- only countrymen Saprissa, a CCL semifinalist last year, is more storied -- and a two-time winner in the tournament's predecessor, the CONCACAF Champions' League.
La Liga, as the team is known, opened CCL play last week with a 1-0 upset of visiting Morelia, from Mexico.
CARSON -- It wasn't a changing of the guard or anything like that, not with Robbie Keane on the way -- and possibly arriving Thursday or Friday -- but it might have seemed so after Adam Cristman's gutty performance in the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League opener.
Cristman netted the first goal, extending fully to knock home a pass from A.J. DeLaGarza in the 13th minute, and probably should have had one or two more as L.A. vaulted atop Group A in the region's club championship with a deserved 2-0 triumph Tuesday night over Honduran champion Motagua at Home Depot Center.
That's nine goals in all this season for Cristman, a big, physical forward who missed the first third of the season while rehabbing from knee surgery and has since slowly built up minutes over a broad collection of competitions.
It's simple to contrast that with Juan Pablo Angel's disappointing output -- just three goals in 22 league games -- especially with the Colombian striker gone to Chivas USA, with an official trade announcement expected Wednesday.
Nobody's going to be that cruel, so as Cristman won kudos from all corners, Angel received accolades from his former teammates and head coach Bruce Arena.
“I would say this about Juan Pablo: He's been a great professional for our team. And he made us a better team. He really did,” said Arena, who brought in the star striker from the New York Red Bulls last December. “I love him as a person and a player. He's a first-class individual. I don't know what more to say. I have nothing but the greatest respect for him.”
Angel trained for the first time Tuesday with Chivas, and Landon Donovan, who added the Galaxy's second against Motagua from David Beckham's cross in the 60th minute, said the regal forward would be missed -- and would make a difference for L.A.'s archrival.
“I know it didn't work out the way he wanted on the field -- he obviously wanted to score a few more goals ...,” Donovan said. “Everybody knows his capabilities and his qualities. For whatever reason, it wasn't working out here. Perhaps the style of play didn't mesh, but I have no doubt he's going to be successful [with Chivas].”
Said defender Gregg Berhalter: “Juan is a first-class guy. He set the standard ... that you work hard, no matter who you are. He worked hard from day one, he had a great attitude from day one, and he was a great teammate.”
Cristman has scored in every kind of competition for L.A. -- one goal in Major League Soccer, one in U.S. Open Cup, two in MLS Reserve League, one in a friendly, three in preseason and now this one.
“He's been great,” Donovan said. “He's reliable, and he's dependable, and you know where he's going to be, you know what kind of effort he's going to give you. He puts himself in some great positions, and he's scored some good goals, and tonight that goal was very important.”
Any doubts about the Mexican Primera Division's supremacy among the region's professional soccer league has been wiped away in CONCACAF's club championship the past decade.
Since the Galaxy in 2000 gave Major League Soccer its second Champions' Cup title in three years, Mexican clubs have won eight of 10 titles -- and six of the finals have been all-Mexico affairs.
That makes picking favorites in the fourth edition since the competition's switch to the current format -- and the CONCACAF Champions League name -- rather simple: defending champ Monterrey, reigning Primera Division titlist Pumas UNAM, Morelia and Santos Laguna.
The group stage begins Tuesday, with 16 clubs spread among four groups battling the next two months for eight quarterfinal berths when the tournament resumes early next year.
Five MLS clubs, the Galaxy included, are in the field, with lowly Toronto FC representing Canada, which has only four fully professional clubs.
Here's a quick look at each group and club:
- GROUP A
Galaxy (USA): L.A. learned a lesson in last year's preliminary-round loss, will wage battle with first-teamers this time around -- Robbie Keane included, once he's eligible.
Alajuelense (Costa Rica): Two-time CONCACAF champs are coming off a title season at home, are solid at the back with Ticos defenders Jose Salvatierra and Jhonny Acosta.
Morelia (Mexico): The Monarcas' summer rebuild has brought in several players with CCL experience, and Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo are a dangerous tandem up top.
Motagua (Honduras): Three former MLSers (Amado Guevara, Ivan Guerrero, Pando Ramirez) and a dozen Honduran national-teamers lead the Honduran champs.
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.
The Galaxy's task in the CONCACAF Champions League got tougher this week: Honduran champion Motagua and Mexican runner-up Morelia joined their group for the tournament's first stage.
The clubs completed as expected preliminary-round romps this week to snare spots in Group A, which looks like this event's “Group of Death.”
Motagua, which will face the Galaxy in a group opener Aug. 16 at Home Depot Center, cruised Thursday night through a 2-0 loss to Guatemala's Municipal, a virtually meaningless match after the Hondurans' 4-0 rout in last week's first leg.
Morelia had it easier, destroying Haitian champ Tempête over two home legs. The Monarcas won, 5-0, in its official home game last week, then won, 2-0, Wednesday night -- with the Haitians playing their home game in Morelia because CONCACAF ruled that their stadium, damaged in last year's earthquake, did not meet standards.
Costa Rican champ Alajuelense completes the Group A quartet and will make its HDC appearance on Aug. 25. The schedule for the final four group-stage rounds has not been released.
All three MLS clubs in preliminary-round action -- FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC -- qualified for the group stage.
Group play will run through Oct. 20, with the top two in each of four groups advancing to next year's quarterfinals.
Here are the groups:
Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
Colorado Rapids (USA)
Real España (Honduras)
Santos Laguna (Mexico)
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador)
Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
FC Dallas (USA)
Toronto FC (Canada)
Seattle Sounders (USA)
Herediano (Costa Rica)
L.A. will face the winner of the preliminary-round series between Honduras' Motagua and Guatemala's Municipal on Aug. 16 at Home Depot Center. Game two will be Aug. 25 against Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense.
Motagua and Municipal play the first leg of their series Thursday night in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. The second leg is Aug. 4 in Guatemala City.