Los Angeles Soccer: Real Espaņa
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.