Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By BRIAN TRUSDELL
For the LA Galaxy to beat two-time defending CONCACAF Champions League champion Monterrey, they will need confidence. And if Landon Donovan is any measure, that much at least has been taken care of.
“Ideally, you win at home, but it’s not an absolute must,” Donovan told MLSsoccer.com heading into Wednesday’s semifinal first leg in Carson, Calif. “Don’t get me wrong. We want to start off the right way here, but if things don’t go exactly as according to plan, then we’re confident we can go to Monterrey and get a result there, too.”
The Galaxy are Major League Soccer’s premier team: the reigning two-time champion with a high-profile lineup – minus one star midfielder. If they want to prove they’re more than that, subduing “Los Rayados” would be a major step in that direction.
Despite Donovan’s belief, history indicates a victory Wednesday is virtually mandatory.
Monterrey has lost only one of 15 games at home in the Champions League since it entered the competition in 2010, and won 12. The only glimmers of hope for Los Angeles is that the Rayados’ one loss came against Seattle in August 2011, and that they only managed a 1-1 draw with lightly regarded Xelaju of Guatemala at home last time out in the second leg of the quarterfinals last month.
“Monterrey has always known how to get through these difficult games, and we hope it’ll be the same (Wednesday),” defender Ricardo Osorio said. “(We want) to get a good result and try to get the away goal.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said he expected to have the services of Robbie Keane, who practiced Monday after injuring his calf while on duty with Ireland 10 days earlier. He possibly also could use Donovan, who returned from his self-imposed 3 1/2-month soccer exile with 29 minutes as a second-half substitute in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Toronto.
Both teams come in on undefeated runs: the Galaxy are unbeaten in six this year while Monterrey hasn’t lost in its last five.
The Galaxy needed an stoppage-time strike from Jose Villarreal on Saturday to earn a 2-2 draw at Toronto, while Monterrey scored three times in the last 10 minutes – one by Suazo – to overwhelm Pumas 3-0 in Monterrey.
With both teams sporting talent and firepower front to back, some see the series being determined by will.
“The Americans are players that man-to-man are very strong,” Monterrey’s Ecuadorian midfielder Walter Ayovi said. “They fight for every ball. I think we must try to play at our own pace. The important thing is to take advantage the few opportunities and know that the game is 180 minutes. ”
Arena can’t identify what will be the determining factor, but is letting his side know that it likely will need to be at the top of its game.
“You could play poorly and win,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to take. My assumption is we’re going to have to play well.”
LA GALAXY vs. MONTERREY
WHEN: Tonight, 10pm
ON THE AIR: Fox Soccer Channel
WHERE: The Home Depot Center
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Galaxy – Robbie Keane, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Omar Gonzalez. Monterrey- Humberto Suazo, Walter Ayovi, Jesus Zavala, Hiram Mier.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH: Humberto Suazo vs. Omar Gonzalez. Suazo’s finishing ability made him last season’s Champions League co-leading scorer with seven goals, and he has 14 in the competition in three years. Since recovering from his devastating knee injury over a year ago, Gonzalez has developed into one of MLS’ best defenders and will need to use the experienced gleaned from his recent World Cup experience to tame Suazo. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas vs. Walter Ayovi and Jesus Zavala. Control of the midfield will be a key, with whoever can maintain possession enabling them to supply potent forwards at either end.