Organizers promise that Wednesday's meeting between Club America and Guatemala's national team is the beginning of an annual series, with the Mexican giant taking on a different "international" team each winter -- and with a trophy at stake.
That aside, the 7 p.m. Home Depot Center clash (ESPN Deportes) is little more than your everyday preseason friendly. The Aguilas, semifinalists in the Mexican Primera Division's fall Apertura, are working toward their Clausura opener Jan. 9 against Pachuca. Guatemala is beginning preparations for the Jan. 14-23 Copa Centroamericana, which will send five teams (of seven competitors) to next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"It's a very serious game," America coach Manuel Lapuente said Tuesday afternoon. "It's our second-to-last game of preseason, and we don't have a lot of time left. We really need this game, because we have to show what we've got for the [Clausura]."
Five things about Wednesday's "El Reto Aguila" encounter:
1. TWO HOME TEAMS?
Neither of these teams are strangers to Southern California, and both have significant followings here. America is, with Guadalajara, one of Mexico's two true giants, and they're making their third 2010 appearance in L.A. Many Guatemalans live in SoCal, and they're getting to see their team for the third time this year, too.
America played two games at HDC during last January's InterLiga event, draws with Estudiantes Tecos and Monterrey, and beat Cruz Azul on July 10 at the Rose Bowl. Guatemala played two Coliseum friendlies, beating El Salvador in March and losing to Honduras in October.
2. AMERICA'S STARS
America made few changes from a side that made a nice late-season run during the Apertura, adding midfielder Nicolas Olivera from Puebla and bringing back defender Rodrigo Iñigo from Gallos Blancos de Queretaro. The big stars: goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa, midfielder Pavel Pardo -- Ochoa is a Mexican national team standourt, Pardo a former El Tri star -- forwards Matias Vuoso, Vicente Sanchez and Daniel Montenegro, and defender Aquivaldo Mosquera.
All are expected to play, but Lapuente promises the Aguilas' younger players -- such as defender Renato Gonzalez and midfielder Joaquin Martinez -- will see ample time. "Ours is a very solid team, very strong," Lapuente said, "and the younger guys have to step up."
3. YOUNG CHAPINES
Guatemala coach Ever Almeida is blooding a young side missing its biggest star -- former Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz, now with Greece's Aris Thessaloniki and not available for the Central American championships -- and featuring just five regulars from the Chapines' abbreviated World Cup qualifying campaign.
Among them: Former Galaxy hero Guillermo "Pando" Ramirez, whose overtime goal lifted L.A. past New England in the 2005 MLS Cup final. He's two matches from reaching 100 caps. Four players, including veteran defenders Carlos Castrillo and Carlos Gallardo, have arrived from Comunicaciones, which just won the Guatemalan title.
4. THE BEST
America hasn't won a Mexican league title in more than five years -- remember: there are two champions every year -- but Lapuente made it clear that he considers his team the one to beat south of the border.
"I can tell you one thing," he said. "The only team people are afraid of [in Mexico] is America."
Said Pardo: "I've been in other teams [Atlas and Tecos], and America is the team you want to beat. We are obligated to win. ... We always want to be protagonists, and that's how it will be" against Guatemala.
5. GRASSY FIELD
If you chanced to see the CIF State high school football bowl games a week before Christmas, you might be stunned to see the condition of the Home Depot Center field. It's green! Yes, the seams between rows of sod are visible, but after all that football (five games over two days) turned the field into muddy muck, who's going to complain?
The renovation began at midnight Dec. 18, just hours after Concord De La Salle routed Anaheim's Servite in the Open football final, when the field was stripped to its foundation. The unceasing rain postponed most of the work and made grading and leveling difficult, HDC spokeswoman Alison Groendal Salcedo explained, and a crew of about 25 workers started laying turf Monday and finished at noon Tuesday.