Los Angeles Soccer: Comunicaciones
CARSON -- Michael Umaņa has been gone all of a few weeks, so his homecoming, as it were, doesn't really register.
Don't tell that to the former Chivas USA defender, who was dumped in a money move this offseason and found new employment in Guatemala. Now he's back for one last kick at Home Depot Center, and he's really looking forward to it.
“I feel very happy to come to my field, where I played for two years,” the Costa Rican center back said on the eve of Saturday's Doble Clasico Centroamericano, a friendly doubleheader matching Guatemalan and Salvadoran archrivals. “Visiting L.A. is always special for me. I've had a lot of happiness and sadness in my soccer career -- more happiness -- and I'm very happy to come back to L.A.”
Umaņa, who leads Comunicaciones against Guatemala City rival Municipal in the 6 p.m. opener, didn't want to leave, but as Chivas coach Robin Fraser continues in his rebuild, the center back's $138,000 base salary, his figure last year, priced him beyond the budget.
“I was very happy [at Chivas],” said Umaņa, who started 49 games in two seasons with the Goats. “It was very difficult to leave. It was a technical decision, by management, so you can't do much about it.”
Umaņa, 29, hooked on with Comunicaciones, which has won 24 Guatemalan championships, second only to Municipal's 29. (One or the other has won the past five titles.) Their rivalry is sort of like Galaxy-Chivas -- Umaņa knows both sides; he was with L.A. when it won the 2005 MLS Cup crown -- except this one's really heated.
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.
L.A., by winning last year's Major League Soccer Supporters' Shield, with the best regular-season record, is one of four top seeds for the 24-team tournament and will paired in the group stage with a No. 2 seed from Central America, with two more teams to arrive via a preliminary-round home-and-home series.
The Galaxy lost in last year's preliminary round to the Puerto Rico Islanders, who play in the North American Soccer League, American soccer's second division.
MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids and Mexico's two champions -- Monterrey and the winner of this week's Pumas UNAM-Morelia final in the spring Clausura -- also are top seeds. The other clubs advancing straight to the group stage are Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Comunicaciones (Guatemala), Real Espaņa (Honduras) and San Francisco (Panama).
MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas, U.S. Open Cup champion Seattle Sounders, the Canadian Championship winner (Toronto FC or Vancouver FC) and Mexico's runners-up (Santos Laguna and the Pumas-Morelia loser) will play in the preliminary round, slated for June 26-28 and Aug. 2-4.