TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- This one couldn't be simpler.
The Galaxy needs a victory Thursday night -- nothing else will do -- and the team they've got to beat has won only once since the end of August, sits at the bottom of its league and has dropped all five matches it has played in CONCACAF's Champions League, finding the net in only one of them.
Defending Honduran champion Motagua has nothing to play for in the regional club championship's Group A finale at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino, and that might just make them a most dangerous foe.
That's the Galaxy's thinking: This isn't going to be easy, but it's got to be done, no matter who is wearing the shirt, and no matter what is thrown their way.
“It'll be interesting to see, actually,” said L.A. captain Landon Donovan, who could miss the game (or start it on the bench) because of a lingering quadriceps injury. “It's a team that's been in a little bit of bad form. I know they're struggling in their league, but if I know those guys, they're prideful, and I'm sure their fans will be excited for the game -- a chance to see David [Beckham] will be exciting -- and my guess is they'll really be up for it.
“Obviously, they're out of the competition, but they're going to want to put on a good show for their fans, so we're going in with the expectation that it's going to be full, it's going to be loud, it's going to be relatively hostile, and it's going to be a hard game.”
A victory will send the Galaxy (3-2-0) to next year's quarterfinals. Anything else will end their Champions League campaign, and Costa Rica's Alajuelense (4-2-0) will join Mexico's Morelia (4-2-0) as Group A's qualifiers.
Alajuela and Morelia won their games in Tegucigalpa -- the home team has won every other match in the group -- and if L.A. can do so, it will win A and draw a final-eight assignment against one of three second-place teams: Seattle Sounders or Toronto FC or the runner-up in Group B, which could be the Colorado Rapids, El Salvador's Isidro Metapan or Honduras' Real España.
“It's winner take all, and that's what you want,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “You want to give yourself a chance like that, and we've done that. ... It's not going to be easy, but the other two teams have done it, and we've got to follow in those footsteps.”
Donovan isn't yet training fully after suffering the right-quad injury in an Oct. 1 Major League Soccer victory over Real Salt Lake, and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said following Wednesday night's training session at Motagua's stadium that “we're hopeful he's ready to play tomorrow. We'll see tomorrow. ... He looked OK [in practice]. It's been awhile since he's been on the field, so we need to be smart.”
If he can't go, Donovan won't be the only missing starter. Irish striker Robbie Keane is out because of a groin injury, No. 1 goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is dealing with his own quad injury, and midfielder/defender Sean Franklin says he's targeting Sunday's MLS regular-season finale at Houston for his return from a knee injury.
Gregg Berhalter's return last weekend from a sprained foot gives the Galaxy defensive depth it hasn't had since August. That's important, because Motagua (0-5-0), despite scoring just 12 goals in 17 games in all competitions this season, has the makings of a dynamic attack.
The Ciclon Azul feature three aging midfielders with MLS experience -- 2004 league MVP Amado Guevara, 35, 2005 Galaxy MLS Cup hero Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez, 33, and Ivan Guerrero, 33 -- plus striker Jerry Bengtson, one of the Honduran national team's biggest stars.
It hasn't added up since the season began in midsummer. Motagua is 2-6-4 in the Honduran Primera Division, and Ramon Maradiaga, the esteemed coach who brought the club to Home Depot Center in mid-August for the group opener -- a 2-0 Galaxy victory -- was dismissed a month ago amid chemistry problems and criticism that the big names' egos were derailing the side.
Mexican coach Jose “Pepe” Treviño, a former Monterrey boss, succeeded him, promptly guided Motagua to a league victory over Deportivo Savio and has gone winless in six games since. That doesn't matter, Beckham says.
“They'll not want to lose at home,” he said. “They'll not want to lose against us, so it doesn't matter what position they're in. They're at home, they're gonna want to win at home. Simple as that.”
Beckham alone could be a boon for Motagua, which has struggled to draw fans, averaging not much more than 5,000 per league game in a stadium that seats 35,000. Its Champions League attendances have been estimated from less than 2,000 to half the stadium, but a radio reporter who covers the club said that crowds have been about 7,000 and ought to be double that with the world's most famous footballer on the field.
“I'm sure they're going to sell a lot of tickets,” Dunivant said. “It's always a big deal when we come into town -- it's a little different than when other teams are playing on the road. [People] are going to want to come see David.”
Beckham was the star attraction as the Galaxy went through customs at Toncontin International Airport, with more than a half-dozen airport employees packed around the customs desk to film his encounter with the agent.
Several dozen people, mostly teenage girls and young women, crowded the Galaxy's hotel lobby for a glimpse or picture of Beckham as the team walked to its bus for the trip to training. He even signed a few autographs. Another crowd greeted the Galaxy at the stadium, where two girls squealed and danced ecstatically, screaming his name, as the bus headed to the hotel after the session.
His presence has some thinking the game will sell out, but locals think that's unlikely. The radio reporter says the rash of violent crime infesting the country is keeping many people away from the games, especially those played after dark.
The Galaxy encountered difficult atmospheres when they played at Morelia and Alajuelense, losing both games -- the first after a perfectly good go-ahead Keane strike in the 90th minute was waved off by a phantom offside call. A must-win victory three weeks ago at home against Morelia made this one possible.
“I've been through these [kinds of] games a lot, qualifiers and whatnot,” Donovan said, “and I understand how slipping up for a game can affect you, I understand how a bad call here or there can affect you, and we've dealt with a lot of that.
“But I think through it all, it's been a really good experience, and at the end of it you go into the last game controlling your destiny, you can't ask for a whole lot more than that.”
WORTH NOTING: Beckham, on playing in must-win games: “These are the games that you want to play in, the ones that matter.” ... The game will be played on a huge field -- 120 yards long, 80 yards wide -- with, unless it's trimmed before the game, thick turf that serves to drag on the ball. “I've played on this field,” said forward Chad Barrett, who did so in a Champions League game last year when he was with Toronto FC. “It just plays slow, and these guys [at Motagua] can play 60- to 70-yard balls on a dime. It's about trying to control the pace of the game, then go from there.” ...
The Galaxy has seven players carrying a yellow card: Donovan, Berhalter, defenders Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and Bryan Jordan, and midfielders Mike Magee and Paolo Cardozo. Should any of them pick up another Thursday and the Galaxy advances, they would serve a suspension in the first leg of the quarterfinals. ... Mexican Clausura champion Pumas UNAM qualified for the quarterfinals Wednesday, winning Group C with a 1-0 win over Panama's Tauro. ... The Colorado Rapids lost, 2-0, at Mexican Primer Division leader Santos Laguna and will reach the knockout stage only if El Salvador's Isidro Metapan and Honduras' Real España draw Thursday. ...
Mexican clubs have won three groups (Santos in B, Pumas in C, defending champion Monterrey in D), but Morelia will finish second no matter what happens. It loses the head-to-head tiebreaker with Alajuela but finishes second to the Galaxy, ahead of Alajuela, on the three-team tiebreaker if all finish with 12 points.
1. Alajuelense (Costa Rica) 4-2-0 (8-6) 12 points
2. Morelia (Mexico) 4-2-0 (11-5) 12
3. Galaxy 3-2-0 (7-4) 9
4. Motagua (Honduras) 0-5-0 (2-13) 0