Los Angeles Soccer: Ramon Maradiaga
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.”
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.